In an investigation into artwork of a suspicious origin, a treasure trove of Nazi memorabilia was recently discovered in Buenos Aires. Among the collection, which ranged from artwork such as busts of Hitler to swastika emblazoned harmonicas from youth programs, were pieces that indicated access to the highest levels of nazi leadership. One specific piece was a swastika-etched magnifying glass, with photographic negatives showing Adolf Hitler holding it. It’s a small reminder to a time when war criminals lived freely until 1960 when Adolf Eichmann was abducted by Mossad agents and brought to Israel to stand trial.

The exodus of Nazi war criminals to South America, often taught as a footnote to history, if mentioned at all; was not by happenstance. High-ranking SS officers lived in Argentina in close proximity, even organizing Nazi social clubs and theaters. Argentinian President Juan Perón, the last man standing after several coups, was on friendly terms with the Nazi officials before and after the war. His government even arranged Nazi meetings for its new citizens.

As insane as it sounds, the question of how much it actually resembled “The Boys from Brazil” may be answered from this investigation.

Eichmann was not alone as a high-ranking member of the regime. Dr. Josef Mengele, the SS physician who experimented on twins at Auschwitz by the thousand, also lived openly in Argentina, working in pharmaceuticals no less. Mengele also got the message when Eichmann, who had taken the step of living under an assumed name, was rolled up by Mossad. Following that, Mengele, whose name was in the phonebook, fled to Brazil and lived in hiding. There, he may or may not have continued his work in eugenics and interacted with or caused the twin population explosion in a town called Candido Godoi.

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A question that current military members may want to ask is how some of the most prolific war criminals of their time managed to live in relative peace and prosperity, despite being well-documented as the perpetrators of their crimes. The answer lies in an international community that drug its feet after the inner circle met their end, and Juan Perón’s Argentina.

Perón was a friend to the Third Reich, visiting Germany and Italy as a military attaché before the U.S. entered the war. After a coup in 1943, he began gradually working his way into power. Perón won the presidential election in 1946 and he led the shaky nation until 1955, when he was overthrown by still another military coup. Given the corruption Perón’s Argentina was known for, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that he welcomed industrious Nazis fleeing Europe, and even catered to their needs.

With the ingredients of civil unrest, a like-minded, potentially corrupt government that might even share support for a cause, and fugitives with access to war loot, Argentina made a perfect haven.

Those same ingredients exist today. Key ISIS figures with money from captured oil wells, Syrian officials responsible for torture and executions under Assad’s government, and nations friendly to their cause could potentially have a similar arrangement in the future.

Dr. Gregory Daddis of Chapman University is a former colonel in the U.S. Army and history professor at West Point. He acknowledges the similarity of the situations.

My guess is that ISIS leaders and others of their ilk would seek out failed or failing nation-states that have weak oversight within their boundaries. Think of al Qaeda using Afghanistan as a base of operations because the Soviet war had so disrupted the internal workings of society that governmental control over that society was lacking for the most part. I suspect ISIS, if forced out of its current locales, would search for similar locations. A stable nation-state would likely think twice about being accused of harboring terrorists,” Daddis said.

As for stable nations that might take on war criminals, Daddis thinks they’re more likely to weigh their options before accepting the risk of providing safe harbor to terrorists and war-criminals.

Iran is a possibility, though more moderates might not be inclined to publicly embrace Assad’s higher-ups for fear of further aggravating relationships with the west. Same for non-extradition. Money is clearly part of the game, but potential havens need to consider the risks involved and being labeled a sponsor of terrorism by providing a safe harbor to extremists,” said Daddis.

So as ISIS scatters to the wind after their attempt at conventional warfare, and Assad’s black hats start getting identified by the UN and NATO, Bin Laden’s record-setting game of hide-and-seek will be challenged.

 

Images courtesy of AP