These Were the Secret Nazi Colonies in South America
Not many people know there were secret Nazi colonies all across South America. To some, this might not even make sense or be clear as to why it was the case.
The Nazi were the members of a mass movement that resulted from the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. The party members ruled Germany under the leadership of totalitarian Adolf Hitler, who promoted nationalism, anti-semitism, and war.
Occupying allies outlawed the Nazi party after the World War II ended. They accused them of the death of six million Jewish people during the Holocaust, and looked to convict high hierarchy members and officials for their war crimes.
Many wealthy and important members of the party, anticipating legal prosecution against their actions, founded “ratlines”—escape routes—to flee from Europe.
Consequently, they established Nazi colonies in South America.
But why South America?
Read ahead to find out what Hitler’s plans were for South America. Join me as I uncover the reason and purpose of his strategy, list the countries that supported his scheme, explain what the Nazi fugitives did upon their arrival, and much more.
Nazi Colonies in South America: How Did They Get Here?
In 1946, the Allies published a list of Nazi war criminals. They only found and judged 50,000 out of 150,000 people. This means the rest either escaped or died. Experts speculate that around 10,000 of those missing fled to South America.
How could they have run away in a time when the whole world was turning their backs on them? In a time when everyone was doing an effort to uncover war crimes by the day?
The answer to that question is: through the organization ODESSA. The ODESSA manpower had records of every location, person, and resource useful in the realization of the Nazis’ flight from Europe. People of each branch operated a different escape route. Otto Skorzeny ran one of those, after being Hitler’s personal bodyguard, he worked for the President of Argentina.
Government senior officials, former soldiers, war pilots, doctors, foreign governments, aid organizations and the Catholic Church worked actively to help Nazis evade justice and find new homes in South America, shipping Nazis from the Spanish or Italian coast.
Many South American and European Catholic officials issued fake documents for them to get passports from the Vatican or the Red Cross—who were also complicit—so they could travel freely. Many of these accomplices were anti-semitic and admired Hitler’s ideology. They provided the false papers that facilitated people like Adolf Eichmann to sail to South America, along with 800 other Secret Service members.
Why Were There Nazi Colonies in South America?
But what countries would be open to receiving people declared persona non grata—like the Nazis? In most cases, those with dictatorships or governments that simpathized with Nazism—actually, many South American countries were breeding grounds of anti-semite sentiments for half a century. Some ratlines led to Spain or Middle East countries, but many others set out in the direction of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and Paraguay.
Let’s take the case of Argentinian president Juan Perón.
His ulterior motive in helping Nazis flee to Argentina was to continue laundering money—over one billion dollars—for Nazi-owned companies.
Besides, there were many well-established German colonies all over South America ready to welcome the new wave of German immigrants. The communities gave the Nazis good jobs within large corporations, factories, diverse industries, and even farms. Evidently, the political and social environment wasn’t hostile for them at all.
Moving to Nazi colonies in South America meant having every aspect of a regular, even above average, life. Most Nazi discendants felt so much at home and surrounded by family that they didn’t even feel the need to change their names.
What Did They Do When They Arrived in South America?
Some of them did remain out of sight, but most felt at home in local German colonies whose members would welcome them warmly into their network. The transition into their new identities and lives included getting to know a new country whose arms were wide open for Nazi members.
Latin America During World War II
During World War II, Brazil was the only country from the Latin American region to send out their troops. It wasn’t until 1944 that Colombia and Bolivia declared war on the Axis alliance countries.
Since economy and war are deeply intertwined, in 1945, the rest of the neutral nations decided to enter war favoring the Allied cause. Despite many pro-fascist sympathizers in Latin America during World War II, all the countries of the region broke relations with the Axis powers.
Nonetheless, many continued to support Germany off the record.
Nazi Colonies in Chile
There was a strong Nazi influence within youth organizations in Chile before 1933. Nazi Germany did everything in their power in order to pursue a Nazification policy in Chile but it did not work to a significant degree. Some of their activities involved the organization of a “Miss Nazi Beauty” contest, and establishing a Chilean branch of the Ku Klux Klan—which would soon disband.
Colonia Dignidad – Paul Shaffer
“Silence is Fortitude” read the poster from the main office of Colonia Dignidad, one of the most notorious German colonies in South America. Its leader, Paul Shafer, was a low-ranking Nazi official who turned into cult leader.
European authorities accused him of several abuses before fleeing Germany, and the Chilean government issued warrants against him more than 30 years later. He disappeared for 8 years, and resurfaced in Argentina.
The two countries worked together to extradite him and convict him—he remained in prison for 4 years until he died.
The Colony had a free hospital, care centers, bakeries, cropping areas, and many facilities in order to lure new members in. Colony security staff wouldn’t allow you to leave and would force members to work at least 16 hours a day from the age of 6 or 7, according to camp survivors.
Shaffer withheld the members’ incomes as well as their goods in order to invest in security. He reinforced security perimeters constantly with new technology so no one would go out or come in. This included dogs, security officers, motion sensors, tall fences, and outposts. He also built a secret tunnel with a sound proof safe room where he could handle anything that worked with electricity from afar.
Many high-ranking Nazis were allegedly shielded in the Colonia Dignidad, and according to the CIA, Dr. Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz “Angel of Death,” was one of them. Mengele conducted human experiments on more than 700 twins during his time in Germany, and was later one of the most wanted men of World War II.
Dictator Augusto Pinochet was the ruler of Chile in the 70’s and 80’s. One of the many atrocities of his reign was the abduction, torture, killing and dissappearing of around 80 thousand people who opposed his regime. There were many concentration camps to accomplish this, one of them being within Colonia Dignidad. Apparently the Chilean government wanted to take advantage of Nazi experience and knowledge of prisioner torture and interrogation.
The colony also fabricated and stored an arsenal, guns, grenades and all sorts of weapons. They commercialized uranium and titanium, and extracted gold.
To put it bluntly, Nazis on the run would have a safe tailor-made space for them where they could still do the things they were persecuted for in Europe and most of the world. A secret cult of war criminals that copied and pasted their modus operandi, way of life, and torture camps. All the while being protected and prisoner-fed by the government, unsupervised, with no boundaries or protocol in their activities.
To the world’s surprise, Colonia Dignidad still exists today, and its inhabitants are mostly Nazi descendants. The most shocking part is that it is a tourist attraction, and you can visit this one and more Nazi colonies in South America anytime you want.
Santiago de Chile – Walter Rauff
Other Nazi colonies existed in South America, specifically in Chile. One of them was Santiago City. Schutzstaffel or Protection Squads, SS, colonel Walter Rauff, was responsible for killing over 100 thousand people during WWII and escaped to Italy right after his arrest in 1945.
He later became the advisor of the president of Syria and fled to Ecuador the next year, before finally settling in the capital city, Santiago de Chile, in 1949. He lived under his real name.
Walter became a cannery manager while spying for West Germany during the Cold War. Santiago’s local authorities arrested him, but the Chile Supreme Court freed him a year after. Dictator Pinochet denied his extradition repeatedly. At his funeral, Nazi sympathizers mourned him, chanting “Heil Hitler” and giving Nazi salutes.
Nazi Colonies in Argentina
Hitler’s plans for South America date long before it seemed they might lose the war. Nazis wanted to politically reshape Latin countries into four Nazi super states. One of the main German colonies they planned out was Bariloche, Argentina. Many SS officers hid there after WWII and had highly respected and well-paid jobs in the local community, where German was and still is the common language.
San Carlos Bariloche – Horst Wagner
Catholic officials aided famous Nazi Horst Wagner, who helped in the process of deporting and murdering over 350,000 Jews. Convents and churches received him before he fled to San Carlos Bariloche. No one would have heard of him if his former lover’s daughter hadn’t written and published his story. He died of old age and German Argentines at gatherings celebrated him constantly along with other former SS members, who would sing Nazi songs with him in local halls.
San Carlos Bariloche – Erich Priebke
Some Nazi colonies in South America were idyllic, almost utopian. Such is the case for the beautiful mountain town of San Carlos Bariloche, home to Horst Wagner and Erich Priebke.
Priebke was a Gestapo member and mid-level SS commander who actively participated in massacres. He used to sign off on Jews transport, acting as the liaison between the Nazis and the Vatican.
After the war, he ended up at a British prisoner camp but managed to escape on New Year’s Eve while the guards were unaware. With the aid of Bishop Hudal, he sailed to Argentina with falsified Red Cross papers. He settled and worked at a school and a deli, living under his own name.
An ABC newsman ambushed Erich and published his story, generating an uproar. The authorities extradited Erich to Italy in order to convict him and sentence him to life imprisonment under house arrest. He died at 100 years old. His funeral was a clash between anti-fascist protestors and Nazi sympathizers.
Buenos Aires – Adolf Eichmann
After the war ended, Adolf Eichmann was one of the most wanted architects of the holocaust. This SS colonel first fled to Italy, and later to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with his whole family. He lived a normal quiet life there, working at a Mercedes-Benz factory.
The Buenos Aires Mercedes-Benz plant was likely at the center of the operation bringing so many Nazis and wealth to Argentina. It’s possible that Eichmann financed the escape of many other Nazi members.
Nothing had happened until his son’s girlfriend came along. As she was of German descent, the Eichmanns thought it wasn’t necessary to cover up their true identities. What they didn’t know was that her father was an holocaust survivor.
She gave notice of Eichmann’s whereabouts to the Israeli intelligence service, who kidnapped and smuggled him out of Argentina. Otherwise, the local government would have protected him.
Israelis brought him to trial, broadcasting the whole process for its 9-month duration. This was the only time an Israeli court issued a death sentence.
Nazi Colonies in Brazil
Brazil engendered Nazism releasing propaganda to gain party militants among the German community before WWII. By 1824, German migrations were at the head of such an effort, creating a domino effect. Not every German engaged in Nazi ideology, but many Nazis infiltrated the most important and highest spheres of Brazil. The main Nazi colonies in this country were in São paulo, Santa Catarina, and Rio de Janeiro.
São Paulo – Josef Mengele
The feared “Angel of Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele landed in Buenos Aires and moved to Uruguay where he got married under his own name. He later became a Paraguayan citizen, living in one of the many local German colonies where Nazis befriended him. He ended up living near São Paulo near a beach where he died in a swimming accident as a free man.
São Paulo – Franz Stangl
Franz Stangl was the commander of the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps, and was responsible for the death of over 950,000 people. He worked on an euthanasia program which conducted the killing of people with physical and mental disabilities. He was captured but escaped to Italy, and Catholic church officials later aided him to sail to Brazil.
Franz started working at Volkswagen São Paulo under his real name. Simon Wiesenthal, a Nazi hunter, tracked him down and helped in his extradition to West Germany. Franz stood trial where German authorities found him guilty of the mass murder of almost a million people. They sentenced him to life imprisonment but soon after he died of heart failure.
No Legal Repercussions for Nazi-sympathetic Countries
There were some presidents of Argentina, Chile, and Brazil who refused to collaborate with the German government in order to find and extradite Nazi war criminals. They even protected a few of the most wanted felons, such as Walter Rauff, who invented the mobile gas chamber van, and Extermination Camp Commandant Gustav Wagner, among many others.
These countries were taking in Nazi sympathizers while rejecting entrance to Jewish survivors.
You would think this would have legal consequences later on, but you would be mistaken.
Chile admitted to not having cared enough about Chilean citizens in the case of Colonia Dignidad. Brazil promoted forced integration between Brazilian and German immigrants or descendants who were initially isolated from the rest of the citizens.
In the end, Brazil took in 2,000 Nazis, Chile took in 1,000, and Argentina did the same with 5,000 Hitler sympathizers.
See History With Your Own Eyes
World War II and the secret Nazi colonies in South America continue to inspire thought-provoking and gripping historical questions.
Still today, elaborating on these topics is highly controversial.
But most importantly, understanding history gives us an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and to forge a brighter future for humanity, together.
Were you aware of the secret Nazi colonies in South America before you read this article? Let me know in the comments!
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