Author`s name Alex Naumov

'Last chance' to capture Nazi officials hiding in South America

The Simon Wiesenthal Center will launch an operation to arrest Second World War criminals in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center will launch this week a large scale operation to capture thousands of Nazi war criminals estimated to still be hiding in South America, some 62 years after the fall of the Third Reich. The “Operation Last Chance” will seek in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Bolivia, wanted Nazis as Alois Brunner, Aribert Heim and Sandor Kepiro, among others in what will probably be the final major effort to locate and bring to justice Nazis in hiding scattered around the world.

According to the center, which announced the launch of the operation this week, the South American phase "Operation: Last Chance" offers money in exchange for information that helps find and prosecute former Nazis. It was first launched in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in July 2002, and spread to countries throughout Europe, including Germany, Poland, Hungary and Croatia.

According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, It has brought forth some 488 suspected Nazi war criminals, of which 99 names were submitted to local law enforcement in the countries where the suspects resided. The result so far has been three arrest warrants, two extradition requests and dozens of continuing investigations.

The final number may not sound like much, "but it's actually a lot [considering] the late date and bureaucratic obstacles," said the center's chief Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, as quoted by the Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post. "The problem is not finding these people, but getting them into a courtroom. Political will is turning out to be more difficult than finding information and catching the [suspects]”, he said.

While "the atmosphere is different now, and there is less willingness [than in the past] to give shelter to exposed Nazi war criminals" on the part of South America's center-left governments, "most have not been willing to undertake comprehensive investigations to find Nazis," Zuroff complains. Even so, "if we find the Nazis, today they will extradite them”, he told according to the Israeli newspaper.

According to the Wiesenthal center, “the operation will formally launch at a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Tuesday, in Chile on Friday and in Brazil and Uruguay the following week”. “The next step will involve advertising in media and setting up telephone hot lines in these countries calling on those with any knowledge to come forward. The third and final phase will be a thorough investigation to evaluate the information, using local detectives and researchers.”

After World War II thousands of Nazi war criminals managed to escape from Europe to South America, including notorious butchers as Adolf Eichmann, Klaus Barbie, Josef Menguele and Ante Pavelic. Some of them were eventually arrested and tried in Europe and Israel, but most of them found shelter in the region.

In Argentina, for example, some Nazi war criminals worked for local governments and became part of its society under new identities.

Hernan Etchaleco