Just when I thought I heard it all
Aug 13, 2009 00:07 AM
by Cass Silva
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Ratlines were systems of escape routes for Nazis and other fascists fleeing Europe at the end of World War II. These escape routes mainly led toward safe havens in South America, particularly Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Chile. Other destinations included the United States and perhaps Canada and the Middle East.
There were two primary routes: the first went from Germany to Spain, then Argentina; the second from Germany to Rome to Genoa, then South America; the two routes "developed independently" but eventually came to collaborate.
One ratline, made famous by the Frederick Forsyth thriller The Odessa File, was run by the ODESSA (Organisation der ehemaligen SS-AngehÃrigen; "Organization of Former SS-Members") network organized by Otto Skorzeny. National governments and international institutions played a larger role than secret societies.
* 1 Early Spanish ratlines
* 2 The Roman ratlines
* 2.1 Early effortsâBishop Hudal
* 2.2 The San Girolamo ratline
* 2.3 US intelligence involvement
* 3 The Argentine Connection
* 4 ODESSA and the Gehlen Org
* 5 Vatican involvement
* 6 Ratline escapees
* 7 In popular culture
* 8 See also
* 9 Endnotes
* 10 Bibliography
 Early Spanish ratlines
The origins of the first ratlines are connected to various developments in Vatican-Argentine relations before and during World War II. As early as 1942, Monsignor Luigi Maglione contacted Ambassador Llobet, inquiring as to the "willingness of the government of the Argentine Republic to apply its immigration law generously, in order to encourage at the opportune moment European Catholic immigrants to seek the necessary land and capital in our country". Afterwards, a German priest, Anton Weber, the head of the Roman St. Raphael Society, travelled to Portugal, continuing to Argentina, to lay the groundwork for future Catholic immigration. According to historian Michael Phayer, "this was the innocent origin of what would become the Vatican ratline".
Spain, not Rome, was the "first center of ratline activity that facilitated the escape of Nazi fascists", although the exodus itself was planned within the Vatican. Charles Lescat, a French Catholic member of Action FranÃaise (an organization suppressed by Pius XI and rehabilitated by Pius XII), and Pierre Daye, a Belgian with contacts in the Spanish government, were among the primary organizers. Lescat and Daye were the first able to flee Europe, with the help of French cardinal Eugene Tisserant and Argentine cardinal Antonio Caggiano.
By 1946, there were probably hundreds of war criminals in Spain, and thousands of former Nazis and fascists. According to US Secretary of State James Byrnes, Vatican cooperation in turning over asylum-seekers was "negligible". According to Phayer, Pius XII "preferred to see fascist war criminals on board ships sailing to the New World rather than seeing them rotting in POW camps in zonal Germany".
Unlike the Vatican emigration operation in Italy, centered on Vatican City, the ratlines of Spain, although "fostered by the Vatican" were relatively independent of the hierarchy of the Vatican Emigration Bureau.
 The Roman ratlines
 Early effortsâBishop Hudal
Catholic Bishop Alois Hudal was rector of the Pontificio Istituto Teutonico Santa Maria dellâAnima in Rome, a seminary for Austrian and German priests, and "Spiritual Director of the German People resident in Italy" . After the end of the war in Italy, Hudal became active in ministering to German-speaking prisoners of war and internees then held in camps throughout Italy. In December 1944 the Vatican Secretariat of State received permission to appoint a representative to "visit the German-speaking civil internees in Italy", a job which was assigned to Hudal.
Hudal used this position to aid the escape of wanted Nazi war criminals, including Franz Stangl, commanding officer of Treblinka, Gustav Wagner, commanding officer of Sobibor, Alois Brunner, responsible for the Drancy internment camp near Paris and in charge of deportations in Slovakia to German concentration camps, and Adolf Eichmann  â a fact about which he was later unashamedly open. Some of these wanted men were being held in internment camps: generally without identity papers, they would be enrolled in camp registers under false names. Other Nazis were in hiding in Italy, and sought Hudal out as his role in assisting escapes became known on the Nazi grapevine 
In his memoirs Hudal said of his actions: I thank God that He [allowed me] to visit and comfort many victims in their prisons and concentration camps and to help them escape with false identity papers. 
He explained that in his eyes:
"The Allies' War against Germany was not a crusade, but the rivalry of economic complexes for whose victory they had been fighting. This so-called business ... used catchwords like democracy, race, religious liberty and Christianity as a bait for the masses. All these experiences were the reason why I felt duty bound after 1945 to devote my whole charitable work mainly to former National Socialists and Fascists, especially to so-called 'war criminals'."
According to Mark Aarons and John Loftus in their book Unholy Trinity , Hudal was the first Catholic priest to dedicate himself to establishing escape routes. Aarons and Loftus claim that Hudal provided the objects of his charity with money to help them escape, and more importantly with false papers including identity documents issued by the Vatican Refugee Organisation (Commissione Pontificia d'Assistenza).
These Vatican papers were not full passports, and not in themselves enough to gain passage overseas. They were, rather, the first stop in a paper trailâthey could be used to obtain a displaced person passport from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which in turn could be used to apply for visas. In theory the ICRC would perform background checks on passport applicants, but in practice the word of a priest or particularly a bishop would be good enough. According to statements collected by Gitta Sereny from a senior official of the Rome branch of the ICRC , Hudal could also use his position as a bishop to request papers from the ICRC "made out according to his specifications". Sereny's sources also revealed an active illicit trade in stolen and forged ICRC papers in Rome at this time.
According to declassified US intelligence reports, Hudal was not the only priest helping Nazi escapees at this time. In the "La Vista report" declassified in 1984, Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) operative Vincent La Vista told how he had easily arranged for two bogus Hungarian refugees to get false ICRC documents with the help of a letter from a Father Joseph Gallov. Gallov, who ran a Vatican sponsored charity for Hungarian refugees, asked no questions and wrote a letter to his "personal contact in the International Red Cross, who then issued the passports" .
 The San Girolamo ratline
According to Aarons and Loftus, Hudal's private operation was small scale compared to what came later. The major Roman ratline was operated by a small, but influential network of Croatian priests, members of the Franciscan order, led by Father Krunoslav DraganoviÄ. DraganoviÄ organized a highly sophisticated chain with headquarters at the San Girolamo degli Illirici Seminary College in Rome, but with links from Austria to the final embarcation point in the port of Genoa. The ratline initially focused on aiding members of the Croatian Ustashi fascist movement, most notably the Croat wartime dictator Ante Pavelic .
Priests active in the chain included: Fr. Vilim Cecelja, former Deputy Military Vicar to the Ustashi, based in Austria where many Ustashi and Nazi refugees remained in hiding; Fr. Dragutin Kamber, based at San Girolamo; Fr. Dominic Mandic, an official Vatican representative at San Girolamo and also "General Economist" or treasurer of the Franciscan order â who used this position to put the Franciscan press at the ratline's disposal; and Monsignor Karlo Petranovic, based in Genoa.
Cecelja would make contact with those in hiding in Austria and help them across the border to Italy; Kamber, Mandic and DraganoviÄ would find them lodgings, often in the monastery itself, while they arranged documentation; finally DraganoviÄ would phone Petranovic in Genoa with the number of required berths on ships leaving for South America. (See below for the operation of the South American end.)
The operation of the DraganoviÄ ratline was an open secret amongst the intelligence and diplomatic community in Rome. As early as August 1945, Allied commanders in Rome were asking questions about the use of San Girolamo as a "haven" for Ustashi . A year later, a US State Department report of 12 July 1946 lists nine war criminals, including Albanians and Montenegrins as well as Croats, plus others "not actually sheltered in the COLLEGIUM ILLIRICUM [i.e., San Girolamo degli Illirici] but who otherwise enjoy Church support and protection."  The British government was annoyed by the Vatican's shelter of Ustashi-Fascist. The envoy to the Holy See, Francis Osborne, asked Domenico Tardini, a high ranking Vatican official, for a permission that would have allowed the British Military police to raid ex-territorial Vatican Institutions in Rome. Tardini granted no permission and denied that the church sheltered war criminals. In February 1947 CIC Special
Agent Robert Clayton Mudd reported ten members of Pavelic's Ustashi cabinet living either in San Girolamo or in the Vatican itself. Mudd had infiltrated an agent into the monastery and confirmed that it was "honeycombed with cells of Ustashi operatives" guarded by "armed youths." Mudd also reported:
"It was further established that these Croats travel back and forth from the Vatican several times a week in a car with a chauffeur whose license plate bears the two initials CD, "Corpo Diplomatico". It issues forth from the Vatican and discharges its passengers inside the Monastery of San Geronimo . Subject to diplomatic immunity it is impossible to stop the car and discover who are its passengers."
Mudd's conclusion was the following:
"DRAGANOVIC's sponsorship of these Croat Quislings definitely links him up with the plan of the Vatican to shield these ex-Ustashi nationalists until such time as they are able to procure for them the proper documents to enable them to go to South America. The Vatican, undoubtedly banking on the strong anti-Communist feelings of these men, is endeavoring to infiltrate them into South America in any way possible to counteract the spread of Red doctrine. It has been reliably reported, for example that Dr. VRANCIC has already gone to South America and that Ante PAVELIC and General KREN are scheduled for an early departure to South America through Spain. All these operations are said to have been negotiated by DRAGANOVIC because of his influence in the Vatican."
The existence of DraganoviÄ's ratline is admitted by the Vatican historian Fr. Robert Graham: "I've no doubt that DraganoviÄ was extremely active in syphoning off his Croatian Ustashi friends." However, Graham insisted that DraganoviÄ was not officially sanctioned in this by his superiors: "Just because he's a priest doesn't mean he represents the Vatican. It was his own operation." 
On four occasions the Vatican intervened on behalf of interned Ustashi prisoners. The Secretariat of State asked the U.K. and U.S. government to release Croatian POWs from British internment camps in Italy.
 US intelligence involvement
If at first US intelligence officers had been mere observers of the DraganoviÄ ratline, this changed in the summer of 1947. A now declassified US Army intelligence report from 1950 sets out in detail the history of the people smuggling operation in the three years to follow.
According to the report, from this point on US forces themselves had begun to use DraganoviÄ's established network to evacuate its own "visitors". As the report put it, these were "visitors who had been in the custody of the 430th CIC and completely processed in accordance with current directives and requirements, and whose continued residence in Austria constituted a security threat as well as a source of possible embarrassment to the Commanding General of USFA, since the Soviet Command had become aware that their presence in US Zone of Austria and in some instances had requested the return of these persons to Soviet custody."
That is, these were suspected war criminals and Quislings from areas occupied by the Red Armyâlegally US Forces were obliged to hand them over for trial to the Soviets. They were reluctant to do this partly due to their belief that fair trial could hardly be expected in the USSR (see Operation Keelhaul), and at the same time, their desire to make use of Nazi scientists and other resources. The deal with DraganoviÄ involved getting the visitors to Rome: "Dragonovich handled all phases of the operation after the defectees arrived in Rome, such as the procurement of IRO Italian and South American documents, visas, stamps, arrangements for disposition, land or sea, and notification of resettlement committees in foreign lands." US intelligence used these methods in order to get important Nazi scientists and military strategists, to the extent they had not already been claimed by the Soviet Union, to their own centres of military science in the US. Many
Nazi scientists were employed by the US, retrieved in Operation Paperclip.
 The Argentine Connection
See also: Juan PerÃn and the Jewish and German communities of Argentina
â In Nuremberg at that time something was taking place that I personally considered a disgrace and an unfortunate lesson for the future of humanity. I became certain that the Argentine people also considered the Nuremberg process a disgrace, unworthy of the victors, who behaved as if they hadn't been victorious. Now we realize that they [the Allies] deserved to lose the war.
Argentine president Juan PerÃn on the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals. â
In his 2002 book The Real Odessa  Argentine researcher Uki GoÃi used new access to the country's archives to show that Argentine diplomats and intelligence officers had, on PerÃn's instructions, vigorously encouraged Nazi and Fascist war criminals to make their home in Argentina. According to GoÃi the Argentines not only collaborated with DraganoviÄ's ratline, they set up further ratlines of their own running through Scandinavia, Switzerland and Belgium.
According to GoÃi, Argentina's first move into Nazi smuggling was in January 1946, when Argentine bishop Antonio Caggiano, bishop of Rosario and leader of the Argentine chapter of Catholic Action flew with Bishop AgustÃn BarrÃre to Rome where Caggiano was due to be anointed Cardinal. While in Rome the Argentine bishops met with French Cardinal EugÃne Tisserant, where they passed on a message (recorded in Argentina's diplomatic archives) that "the Government of the Argentine Republic was willing to receive French persons, whose political attitude during the recent war would expose them, should they return to France, to harsh measures and private revenge."
Over the spring of 1946 a number of French war criminals, fascists and Vichy officials made it from Italy to Argentina in the same way: they were issued passports by the Rome ICRC office; these were then stamped with Argentine tourist visas (the need for health certificates and return tickets was waived on Caggiano's recommendation). The first documented case of a French war criminal arriving in Buenos Aires was Emile Dewoitineâlater sentenced in absentia to 20 years hard labour. He sailed first class on the same ship back with Cardinal Caggiano 
Shortly after this Argentinian Nazi smuggling became institutionalised, according to GoÃi, when PerÃn's new government of February 1946 appointed anthropologist Santiago Peralta as Immigration Commissioner and former Ribbentrop agent Ludwig Freude as his intelligence chief. GoÃi argues that these two then set up a "rescue team" of secret service agents and immigration "advisors", many of whom were themselves European war-criminals, with Argentine citizenship and employment .
 ODESSA and the Gehlen Org
Main article: ODESSA
The Italian and Argentinian ratlines have only been confirmed relatively recently, mainly due to research in recently declassified archives. Until the work of Aarons and Loftus, and of Uki GoÃi (2002), a common view was that ex-Nazis themselves, organised in secret networks, ran the escape routes alone. The most famous such network is ODESSA (Organisation of former SS members), founded in 1946 according to Simon Wiesenthal, which included SS-ObersturmbannfÃhrer Otto Skorzeny and SturmbannfÃhrer Alfred Naujocks and in Argentina, Rodolfo Freude. Alois Brunner, former commandant of Drancy internment camp near Paris, escaped to Rome then Syria by ODESSA (Brunner is thought to be the highest-ranking Nazi war criminal still alive as of 2007). Persons claiming to represent ODESSA claimed responsibility in a note for 9 July 1979 car bombing in France aimed at Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld. According to Paul Manning
(1980), "eventually, over 10,000 former German military made it to South America along escape routes ODESSA and Deutsche Hilfsverein..." 
Simon Wiesenthal, who advised Frederick Forsyth on the novel/filmscript The Odessa File which brought the name to public attention, also names other Nazi escape organisations such as Spinne ("Spider") and Sechsgestirn ("Constellation of Six"). Wiesenthal describes these immediately after the war as Nazi cells based in areas of Austria where many Nazis had retreated and gone to ground. Wiesenthal claimed that the Odessa network shepherded escapees to the Catholic ratlines in Rome (although he mentions only Hudal, not DraganoviÄ); or through a second route through France and into Francoist Spain 
ODESSA was supported by the Gehlen Org, which employed many former Nazi party members, and was headed by Reinhard Gehlen, a former Nazi intelligence officer employed post-war by the CIA. The Gehlen Org became the nucleus of the BND German intelligence agency, directed by Reinhard Gehlen from its 1956 creation until 1968.
 Vatican involvement
Main article: Class action suit against the Vatican Bank and others
It is accepted that Catholic priests, notably Hudal and DraganoviÄ, were actively involved in smuggling wanted war criminals. What is disputed is the extent to which their actions were sanctioned by higher authorities within the Church.
In his role as apostolic visitor to the imprisoned Croats, DraganoviÄ reported to Bishop Giovanni Battista Montini, then secretary in charge of 'extraordinary affairs' at the Vatican's Secretariat of State - he would later become Pope Paul VI. Some evidence that Montini was aware that a ratline investigation was involved has come out recently in a San Francisco courtroom where a class action suit of holocaust survivors against the Vatican Bank is currently underway. One witness in the trial is William Gowen, a former US Army intelligence agent stationed in Rome in the years after the war, charged with investigating the DraganoviÄ ratline. Gowen's testimony has not been officially published, but a copy was obtained by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz which printed an article in January 2006 accusing Montini based on Gowen's evidence . According to the Haaretz article:
"I personally investigated Draganovic - who told me he was reporting to Montini", emphasized Gowen. Gowen related that at a certain stage Montini learned, apparently from the head of the OSS unit in Rome, James Angleton, who nurtured relations with Montini and the Vatican, of the investigation Gowen's unit was conducting. Montini complained about Gowen to his superiors and accused him of having violated the Vatican's immunity by having entered church buildings, such as the Croatian college, and conducting searches there. The aim of the complaint was to interfere with the investigation. In his testimony, Gowen also stated that Draganovic helped the Ustashe launder the stolen treasure with the help of the Vatican Bank: This money was used to fund its religious activities, but also to fund the escape of Ustashe leaders on the Rat Line.
According to Phayer, "the Vatican sparked new life into Hudal's plan when Pius XII's close adviser Father Leiber wrote to the Austrian bishop at the time of Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, telling him that in some sense he could look at the mission as a crusade".
 Ratline escapees
Nazis and war criminals who escaped using ratlines include:
* Adolf Eichmann
* Franz Stangl
* Gustav Wagner
* Erich Priebke
* Klaus Barbie
* Edward Roschmann
* Aribert Heim
* Andrija ArtukoviÄ
* Ante PaveliÄ
* Walter Rauff
* Alois Brunner
* Josef Mengele
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