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 World War II ended, condemning them for the murder of six million people during the Holocaust, and looked to convict high-level members and officials for their war crimes.
Meanwhile, the most wealthy and important members of the Nazi party, who anticipated legal prosecution against their actions, founded “ratlines”—or, escape routes—to flee from Europe.
Consequently, they established Nazi colonies in South America.
But why South America?
Read ahead to uncover the Nazis’ plans for South America, their shrewd and shocking strategies, and the the countries that supported them—and much more.
Nazi Colonies in South America: How Did They Get There?
In 1946, the Allies published a list of 150,000 Nazi war criminals, of whom only 50,000 were found and judged. This means the rest either escaped or died—and 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 making an effort to uncover war crimes on daily basis?
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, who was once Hitler’s personal bodyguard, began working for the president of Argentina, and ran his own escape route.
Even more surprising is the fact that government senior officials, former soldiers, war pilots, doctors, foreign governments, aid organizations, and the Catholic Church worked tirelessly to help Nazis evade justice and establish new homes under false names. These crime-supporting organizations actively set out to secretly ship Nazis from the Spanish or Italian coast to the most popular hideout: South America.
In fact, 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.
Which Countries Supported the Nazi Colonies in South America?
Which countries would be open to receiving people declared “persona non grata”—like the Nazis?
In most cases, the countries with dictatorships or governments that sympathized with Nazism welcomed them with open arms. In reality, many South American countries had already been breeding grounds of anti-Semite sentiments for half a century or more.
While some ratlines led to Spain or Middle Eastern countries, most of them led straight to:
Argentina was one of the most popular destinations, thanks to 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.
Further facilitating this influx of fugitives was the constellation of well-established German colonies all over South America that not only sat ready to welcome a new wave of legitimate German immigrants, but also to accommodate the criminals intent on hiding out. These communities provided the Nazis with well-paying positions at large corporations, factories, and farms.
Evidently, the political and social environment wasn’t the least bit hostile to them.
Moving to Nazi colonies in South America meant having every aspect of a regular, even above average, lifestyle. Most Nazi descendants felt so much at home and surrounded by family that they didn’t even feel the need to change their names.
Let’s explore the top Nazi Colonies in Chile, Brazil, and Argentina, along with the most shockingly evil residents they housed.
Nazi Colonies in Chile
Before 1933, a strong Nazi influence existed within youth organizations in Chile, which sponsored such activities as a “Miss Nazi Beauty” contest and aimed to establish a Chilean branch of the Ku Klux Klan—which disbanded soon after.
Two major Nazi colonies in Chile played a major role in maintaining their political strength and presence within the country:
- Colonia Dignidad
- Santiago de Chile
Each colony hold surprising secrets of a thriving Nazi influence and powerful leaders.
Colonia Dignidad, led by Paul Shaffer
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 disappearing of around 80,000 people who opposed his regime. There were many concentration camps to accomplish this, one of them being Colonia Dignidad.
Clearly, the Chilean government took quick advantage of Nazi experience and knowledge of prisoner torture and interrogation to achieve their political and military goals.
“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 Shaffer, was a low-ranking Nazi official turned cult leader.
The colony had a free hospital, care centers, bakeries, shopping areas, and many facilities in order to lure in new members—but it was a trap. Colony security staff didn’t allow members to leave and would force them to work at least 16 hours a day (even at 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 the colony’s security. He reinforced camp perimeters constantly with new technology—including dogs, security officers, motion sensors, tall fences, and outposts—to prevent anyone from going out or coming in without his explicit permission. He also built a secret tunnel equipped with a sound proof safe room, where he allegedly stored and experimented with electric devices.
Many high-ranking Nazis were shielded by 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.
The colony also fabricated and stored an arsenal of guns, grenades, and other high-tech, modern weaponry. They commercialized uranium and titanium, and extracted gold.
To put it bluntly, Nazis on the run had 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. This secret cult of war criminals copied and pasted the Nazi modus operandi, way of life, and torture camps concept, all the while being protected and entirely unsupervised by Chile’s national government.
However, this didn’t last forever. 30 years later, European authorities accused the colony leader, Paul Shaffer, of several abuses committed in Germany, and the Chilean government followed suite by issuing him an arrest. Instead of being locked up, he disappeared for 8 years—later to resurface in Argentina, when the two countries worked together to extradite him and convict him. He remained in prison for 4 years until he died.
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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