War Criminals Captured: The Stories of Finding Seven Nazis

War Criminals Captured: The Stories of Finding Seven Nazis

Michelle Powell-Smith - November 11, 2016

After World War II, there were a nearly endless number of war criminals sought by the Allies, various governments, and even individual Nazi hunters. Many of the key figures in the Nazi regime were captured relatively quickly, and served trial in Nuremberg. Others escaped, often with the assistance of Catholic bishops and monks, along the rat lines from Italy to South America or the Middle East.

Some of those escaped Nazis were hunted down and caught rather quickly. Many others escaped, living out their lives under false identities. Here, we will share the stories of seven Nazis, ranging from key figures in the regime to minor, but much-remembered individuals. These captures were the work of the U.S. Army, the Israeli secret service, and dedicated and driven individuals like Simon Wiesenthal.

Rudolf Hoess

Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz, was hanged on hastily-built gallows near one of the crematoria at Auschwitz. This was one of the crematoria that had been used to dispose of the bodies of the millions killed at Auschwitz between its opening in 1940 and its closure in 1945. The mass gassing of prison began in September 1941.

War Criminals Captured: The Stories of Finding Seven Nazis

In appearance, Hoess was a mild-mannered man, who identified as Catholic. He lived in a house in sight of the crematoria with his wife and five children. As the war reached its end, and the remaining prisoners of Auschwitz were sent on a final death march, Hoess went into hiding.

As advised by Heinrich Himmler, Hoess fled into Germany, passing himself off as a member of the German navy. In March, 1946, his wife disclosed his location to the British; she feared for the well-being of her son, Klaus. Hoess was, by this time, living and working as a gardener in Gottrupel. He used the name Franz Lang.

The British force was led by Hanns Alexander, a German Jew who had fled to Britain. When captured, Hoess denied his identity. Alexander asked to examine Hoess’ wedding ring and Hoess refused. Only when Alexander threatened to cut off Hoess’ finger did he remove the ring. Inside the band, the names Rudolf and Hedwig were engraved. He was threatened and beaten by the British, and finally admitted his identity.

Hoess appeared before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg on April 15, 1946. He was called as a witness for the defense, and provided clear testimony enumerating the dead at Auschwitz. Following his testimony, Hoess was handed over to the Polish authorities and tried for his war crimes by the Supreme National Tribunal in Poland. Hoess was sentenced to death and hanged on April 16, 1947 at Auschwitz.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner

War Criminals Captured: The Stories of Finding Seven Nazis

Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of security and intelligence services for the Nazi regime was hanged in Nuremberg, Germany following the Nuremberg trials of 1946. Kaltenbrunner had a significant role in the conception and application of the Final Solution, as well as the final liquidation of several concentration camps, including Dachau, in the days before Allied liberation.

Kaltenbrunner was a large man, described in the days of the Nuremberg trial as looking every bit like a Nazi. While he was technically subordinate to Heinrich Himmler, he frequently worked directly with Adolf Hitler, and can be considered Himmler’s right-hand man. Also, Kaltenbrunner actively supported Nazi breeding programs to increase the Aryan population, believing that it was the duty of fertile German women to produce babies, regardless of their marital status or husbands.

`As VE Day neared, the Americans believed that the party leaders of the Nazi party were likely to take refuge in the Austrian mountains. The 80th Infantry Division, Third U.S. Army was diverted to the region. The Division arrested small-scale Nazi leaders and interrogated them, and were the first to see the state of the Ebensee Concentration Camp. In Strobl, Austria, on May 6, 1945, they found Kaltenbrunner’s wife and children.

They continued their search for Kaltenbrunner and other Nazi party officials in Austria. The 80th Infantry continued on to Alt Aussee, an Austrian lake resort. On May 11, after arresting a number of minor officials and locating Kaltenbrunner’s mistress, they received a tip that he was at a cabin high in the Alps. Kaltenbrunner was captured at the cabin, although he denied his identity.

During his interrogations, Kaltenbrunner attempted to create an alibi for himself and to distance himself from the actions of the party, but not from Hitler. Kaltenbrunner was transferred to an interrogation center outside of London and refused to provide further testimony. He was later transferred to Nuremberg in handcuffs. Following the Nuremberg trials, Kaltenbrunner was hanged on October 16, 1946.

Hermann Goering

War Criminals Captured: The Stories of Finding Seven Nazis

Hermann Goering, the director of the Nazi’s Four-Year Plan, committed suicide in prison in Nuremberg on October 15, 1946. He had been sentenced to hang in the Nuremberg trials, and his execution was scheduled for the following day.

In May 1945, the 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion, an element of the 36th Infantry Division, was assigned the task of capturing Hermann Goering. On May 5, they received word of the German surrender and were told they could come in from their posting. The following day, they reached Kufstein, Austria, spending the night in a hostel. The next morning, the acting staff sergeant ordered them to gather rations for three to five days, as well as ammunition, gas and water, as they had a mission. That mission was, of course, to capture Goering.

They were to follow a senior German officer into Austria to accept a surrender; they did not know who the officer was. Some of the men believed they were to accept Himmler’s surrender. They followed a Mercedes out of Kufstein, later learning that the Mercedes had arrived with letters from Hermann Goering to General Eisenhower under a white flag.

Goering’s plan was to surrender to the U.S., then to join with the U.S., along with German forces, to fight the Russians. His path directly to Eisenhower was blocked, hence the reason U.S. forces at Kufstein were sent to accept his surrender. The Germans had prepared the route, and planned the surrender at Fischhorn Castle. American troops took up guard posts at the castle, alongside SS troops. Goering was not present, and his senior aide had to attempt to find him when the Americans, led by General Stack, arrived.

Goering arrived at the castle late that night, with his wife, daughter, and a nurse accompanying him. He had members of the Luftwaffe with him, but had previously been arrested by the SS. The night was tense. The following day, Goering was taken to the Grand Hotel in Kitzbuhel. There, he sat down to a lunch of chicken, peas and mashed potatoes with American military; this later led to fraternization charges.

Hermann Goering was tried and convicted on four charges; conspiracy, war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity. Someone smuggled him a cyanide pill in his cell. In his suicide note, he wrote that while being shot would have been acceptable, his station was too high to accept hanging.

Julius Streicher

War Criminals Captured: The Stories of Finding Seven Nazis

Julius Streicher, editor of Der Sturmer, was hanged for crimes against humanity following the Nuremberg trials in 1946.

Julius Streicher served the Nazi party in an official capacity only until 1939, but played a key role in the Nazi propaganda machine until the end of the war. As editor of Der Sturmer and author of several anti-Semitic children’s books, Streicher was more erratic than many in the party. He had been officially removed from his government position in 1939, after plotting against Goering. While Streicher was not an official member of the Nazi government, Der Sturmer was an integral and successful part of Nazi propaganda.

When Germany surrendered to the Allies in May 1945, Streicher intended to commit suicide. Instead, he married his secretary. Only days later, on May 23, Streicher was captured in Waidring, Austria by American forces led by Major Henry Pitt. He initially claimed to a painter named Joseph Sailer, and was painting a landscape when apprehended. In custody, Streicher claims to have been tortured by African-American soldiers, and sexually intimidated female translators.

Even the other Nazis captured by the Americans were offended by Streicher. He was uncouth and rude, sex-obsessed, and largely shunned by the other Nazis at the prison at Ashcan.

While most of those tried at Nuremberg bore clear responsibility for the creation or implementation of the war and the Holocaust, Streicher was tried on two charges; crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. He was acquitted of the first and convicted of the second. His work as a propagandist for the Nazis had supported and created the environment that facilitated the Holocaust. After his conviction, Streicher was hanged on October 16, 1946.

Franz Stangl

War Criminals Captured: The Stories of Finding Seven Nazis

Franz Stangl, commandant of Treblinka and Sobibor, died in prison in 1970, only six months after he was sentenced. The story of the capture of Stangl is far more exciting than those of the Nazis captured and taken into custody in the days and weeks following VE day.

Stangl first worked as part of the T-4 Euthanasia program, which killed the disabled, then took over control of Sobibor. Initially, he was unaware of its function as an extermination camp, but he claimed to have found a gas chamber in the woods nearby. Stangl was responsible for approximately 100,000 deaths at Sobibor before transferring to Treblinka. At Treblinka, he focused on efficiency, describing those killed as cargo to be disposed of and taking pride in his work.

At the end of the war, Stangl fled, using his own name. He was detained in 1945 by the Americans, who believed he had had some involvement with the T-4 program. In May 1948, he escaped to Italy, and with the help of a Catholic bishop who supported the Nazis, fled Europe. He was able to reach Syria using a Red Cross passport provided by one of the ratlines helping Nazis escape. He and his family lived in Syria for three years, before moving to Brazil in 1951.

A warrant was issued for his arrest in 1961, and with the help of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Stangl was located and arrested in Brazil on February 28, 1967. It is, in fact, unclear why it took so many years to locate and arrest Stangl; he never attempted to hide his identity.

After his arrest, he was extradited to West Germany and charged with the deaths of 900,000 people. He claimed to simply have been doing his duty, and claimed no intent to have committed a crime. He did, in the final hours before his death from heart failure in prison in Dusseldorf, appear to admit that he bore guilt for his actions.

Karl Silberbauer

War Criminals Captured: The Stories of Finding Seven Nazis

Karl Silberbauer, best known for his role as the Gestapo Chief in Amsterdam who captured Anne Frank, died of natural causes after a career as a police inspector in Vienna, Austria. While he was not tried for war crimes, there was a police disciplinary hearing for his role during the war.

Silberbauer is most often remembered for his raid on the Secret Annex. Anne Frank, her family and several others were hidden in the annex, and had been in hiding for several years. Silberbauer arrested them, and gathered their possessions, scattering the pages of Anne Frank’s diary. The Dutch police who assisted remembered Silberbauer’s name as something like Silvernagel.

In 1958, a Holocaust denier challenged Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal to locate the Gestapo officer responsible for the raid on the Secret Annex, stating that he would change his mind if Wiesenthal could prove the existence of Anne Frank, and the validity of her diary. Wiesenthal began his search and worked for several years. Finally, having received a Gestapo telephone directory, he found Silberbauer’s name in 1961.

Wiesenthal contacted an investigator of Nazi war crimes in the Austrian government and learned that it was likely that Silberbauer worked for the police department in Vienna. On June 2, 1963, Wiesenthal submitted a formal request to the police department, but they stalled for some time. In fact, the police identified Silberbauer at once, but suspended him, hoping to avoid publicity. He was soon exposed, and admitted his role.

The Austrian government declined to try him, but the police convened a disciplinary hearing. Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, said that Silberbauer had conducted himself professionally. Silberbauer’s suspension was lifted, and he lived out his life.

Adolf Eichmann

War Criminals Captured: The Stories of Finding Seven Nazis

Adolf Eichmann, the functional engineer of the Final Solution, was tried and put to death in Israel in 1962. This was the sole time in that Israel has employed the death penalty. Eichmann avoided prosecution immediately after the war, and successfully evaded capture for more than a decade.

In May 1945, Adolf Eichmann was arrested and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp. He first identified himself as a Luftwaffe corporal, and after realizing that officers were exempt from labor, became SS -Untersturmfuhrer Otto Eckmann. After a transfer to another camp, he was able to escape with false papers and spent several years as an agricultural worker.

Eichmann was then able to follow the rat line from Germany to Italy, and from Italy to Argentina. He spent two years in Italy, living under false papers provided by ODESSA, an organization of SS men. With forged papers, he sailed for Argentina, taking a job at a hydro-electric power company in 1950.

He wrote to his wife, and sent a coded message asking her to join him with their children. She arrived in Argentina in 1952. For a number of years, the family lived quite an ordinary life in Argentina. The false life began to crumble when a half-Jewish German man met Eichmann’s son, Klaus and made the connection. This man, Lothar Hermann, wrote to authorities in Frankfurt, and after some time, the letter and information reached the Israeli foreign minister and a special branch of the Israeli Secret Service, called Mossad.

Mossad decided to bring Eichmann back alive; however, the operation could not be handled diplomatically. Eichmann would have to be kidnapped to be brought to Israel. A special task force led by agent Rafi Eitan kidnapped Eichmann on May 11, 1960. After interrogating him, he was drugged and flown to Israel, arriving on May 22, 1960.

The Eichmann trial provided more than justice. For many survivors, it was the first time they told their stories, and brought international attention back to the Holocaust. At the trial, Eichmann was found guilty of some 15 different charges. He was hanged, cremated, and his ashes scattered outside of Israeli waters.