August 31, 2010 10:31:00 AM
With the end of the Second World War, there was much that had to be repaired, and among the human repairs that were needed was hunting the former Nazis that joined the teeming displaced masses. There is a perception that there was a postwar Nazi network "Odessa," the members of which were pursued by determined investigators like Simon Wiesenthal.nIt all fits into our sense of justice, and unfortunately it is mostly untrue.
Yes, the victors did have efforts to bring the former Nazis to justice, and they are chronicled by historian and journalist Guy Walters in "Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped & the Quest to Bring Them to Justice" (Broadway Books). But Walters says that he learned so much about what actually happened, so much that was scandalous and infuriating, that he almost called his book "Hunting Evil (Or Not)."
While justice was done in some big cases, it was delayed in many others, and delayed sometimes until the former Nazis had lived out their lives in full. Often they were helped by the Catholic Church or by nations who were glad to get their help in fighting one side or the other of the Cold War.
And sadly, Simon Wiesenthal, regarded by many as a hero in the hunt, played a consequential role in only a few captures, while boasting that he had been instrumental in hundreds.
Walters''s book has excitement in it, as it describes some of the hunts that were eventually successful. More often, it is a necessary but disheartening account of how far from the ideal was the search for Nazi criminals. The decades have rolled on and the hunt is over; "Hunting Evil" is an important summary of how justice was done, and in many cases was not.
There were loose organizations that helped former Nazis out of Europe, though they were nothing like the Odessa organization that was imagined by Frederick Forsyth in the book and resultant movie "The Odessa File." It made for good fiction, and it pleased conspiracy theorists, and Wiesenthal liked to imagine that he was doing battle against a brotherhood that was united with all the fervor they had shown to their Fuehrer.
There is, however, no evidence that such an organization existed. In fact, Wiesenthal fed Forsyth "facts" on which to base his fiction, and Forsyth did believe such an organization existed, but has come around to understanding that it was little more than an Old Boy Network, fellows helping one another out informally.
There were ways that former Nazis did get to South America, for instance, but it was by haphazard efforts. It is astonishing how many of these efforts were aided by the Catholic Church. Adolf Eichmann wrote: "It was odd how throughout my escape journey I was helped by Catholic priests... In their eyes, I was just another human being on the road."
There were monks, nuns, and bishops involved; while Walters calls outrageous the claims that Pope Pius XII helped the Nazis escape, it is clear that many in Pius''s organization were eager to subvert justice.
Among them was Bishop Alois Hudal of Rome. Hudal had written in 1936 "The Foundations of National Socialism," and his sympathies were with Hitler''s regime.
Pius did him the great favor after the war of giving him a pass to tour internment camps; Hudal wrote that he thanked God that he could visit these "victims" and could help them "escape with false identity papers."
Off at least some of them went to South America, with his blessing. There were plenty of other helpers within the church, so many that fugitive former Nazis counted on them as dependable protectors.
Erich Priebke in 1944 had gathered more than 300 Italians in a cave for a reprisal killing. In his flight, he went back to his hometown, but did not go to the house to be with his wife; he went instead to the house of the local priest, who sheltered him secretly.
It was not only church officials who did what they could to help the former Nazis and keep them from trial or punishment. The governments after the war found that there was little political will to spend effort and money to try the thousands of war criminals who deserved trials. (Churchill, among others, worried that exposing details of Nazi war crimes would result in allied war crimes being exposed as well.)
The governments also shifted from being allies to being in the communist or anti-communist poles, and found it handy to have former Nazis who might help them out against the new enemy. The advantage to these former Nazis was that they didn''t have to chase off to some other continent; they could stay in their homelands and earn a pretty salary as well.
Friedrich Buchardt may have been responsible for 100,000 deaths, but got post-war paychecks from Britain''s MI6, and later aided the Americans, and instead of being hung, he died quietly in his bed 40 years after the war.
The "Butcher of Lyon," Klaus Barbie, got American protection for years, despite French entreaties for justice. Barbie did eventually wind up in Bolivia, where the dictatorship there valued his fiendish skills at "interrogation," and finally after a regime change was sent to France to die in prison.
There are many distressing pages in Walters''s work, for he has to detail the crimes for which these former Nazis were hunted (or should have been).The lack of motivation of the Allies to ensure justice, too, is disheartening.
The most surprising and disappointing revelations, though, are about Simon Wiesenthal, who was a media focus as a Jewish seeker of vengeance, and whom many knew as "The Man Who Never Forgets." He is celebrated as some sort of secular saint, and got plenty of awards and was nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Peace Prize.Walters shows, and shows conclusively, that Wiesenthal invented much of his own autobiography and exaggerated his achievements.
"Wiesenthal''s reputation is built on sand. He was a liar, and a bad one at that."Walters writes, "Smearing Wiesenthal is a popular pastime for anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers, so-called ''Revisionists,'' and other such cranks," but for those cranks, Wiesenthal made himself an easy target.
Walters documents one contradiction after another in Wiesenthal''s own writings or speeches, and finds repeatedly that Wiesenthal exaggerated his own importance. He claimed, for instance, that the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960 was his greatest triumph, but in documenting the story of the capture here (and it is an exciting part of the book), Walters shows that Wiesenthal contributed slightly and the contribution was more of a hindrance to the Mossad agents, not a help.
Wiesenthal inexcusably hounded a Polish immigrant, Chicagoan Frank Walus, for collaboration with the Gestapo and other crimes; no such crimes had occurred, and Walus got a payment and an apology from the U.S. government. He never recovered his reputation, however, and Wiesenthal and his organization just kept quiet about ruining it.
Walters allows that Wiesenthal did provide essential help in a dozen or so captures, but not the 1,500 he claimed. He allows also that Wiesenthal had the enthusiasm to work on the right team when many others who could have prevented injustice were letting former Nazis go. Wiesenthal also provided a focus for the world to think that justice was being done.
The beginning epigram for "Hunting Evil," however, is from Petronius: "Mundus vult decipi" -- "The world wants to be deceived." I take it that Walters deliberately left off the last part of Petronius''s sentence, "...ergo decipiatur," which adds: "so let it be deceived."
The book is a study of deceptions on the part of Nazis, governments, church officials, and Nazi hunters; if the world wants to be deceived about them, it will be only despite the revelations in "Hunting Evil."
Rob Hardy is a local psychiatrist who reviews books for a hobby. His e-mail address is [email protected]