The jungles of South America are home to many mysterious and unknown ruins, but the discovery of a cluster of buildings in Argentina could be one of the strangest yet. Archaeologists believe they may have stumbled upon a Nazi lair hidden deep within the jungle.
The buildings, which are only accessible via cutting through thick undergrowth, date from around the 1940s and housed an interesting range of objects. Among the relics found around the buildings were several German coins dated from the late 1930s and early 1940s, as well German porcelain and graffiti. It is believed the site could have been developed as part of a series of secret safehouses (known as "ratlines") for Nazis who were fleeing Europe. The head of the team who made the discovery, Daniel Schavelzon, had this to say:
We can find no other explanation as to why anyone would build these structures, at such great effort and expense, in a site which at that time was totally inaccessible, away from the local community, with material which is not typical of the regional architecture.
Local legend had always told of a house in the jungle which belonged to Martin Bormann, one of Hitler's most trusted aides. Although Schavelzon dismisses that rumor as an "urban legend" (Bormann's remains were later found in Berlin), he does believe the buildings could have been one of a series of safehouses built by the Nazis once the war began to turn against them. He explained:
Apparently, halfway through the Second World War, the Nazis had a secret project of building shelters for top leaders in the event of defeat – inaccessible sites, in the middle of deserts, in the mountains, on a cliff or in the middle of the jungle like this... This site also has the bonus of allowing the inhabitants to be in Paraguay in less than 10 minutes. It's a protected, defendable site where they could live quietly.
However, Schavelzon suggests that the site was likely never used or inhabited for long by any Nazi fugitives, since high ranking members of the Nazi party were offered asylum in South America following the war. Of the 9,000 Nazis estimated to have fled to South America, around 5,000 were believed to have headed for Argentina.
Although the evidence does appear convincing, Schavelzon claims his findings are not yet definite. Despite this, he is personally convinced of their veracity.
President Juan Peron, who led Argentina from 1946 to '55, invited Nazi officials and scientists to the country in order to bolster Argentina's capacity in various fields. As well as lower ranking SS officers and Nazi party members, the Argentine government also gave asylum to some extremely high-ranking and notorious Nazis. Here are three of them.
Eichmann is often considered one of the major architects of the Holocaust. Among other things, he organized the creation of ghettos, as well as the transport of Jews and other persons deemed 'untermensch' to concentration camps. He was once quoted as stating:
I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction.
He managed to escape encirclement by the Soviet army in Budapest in 1944 and fled to Austria. From there, he escaped to Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1950 and began a new life. In 1960, an Israeli commando team of Mossad and Shin Bet agents located Eichmann, abducted him and smuggled him to Israel for trial. He was eventually hanged for his crimes in 1962, aged 56.
During the war, Proebke was a captain in an SS police division located in Rome. He was held personally responsible for the 1944 massacre of 335 Italian citizens in retaliation for a partisan attack which killed 33 German soldiers - 10 Italians for each German killed (five additional Italians, who were not on the list, were killed "by mistake.")
Although initially captured, Proebke managed to escape from a prison camp in 1946, and with the help of a Vatican priest, and fled to Argentina on a false passport in 1948. There he lived for almost 50 years until an ABC News team tracked him down in 1994. The report stated he lived fairly openly in Argentina and appeared to show no remorse for his actions, claiming his only regret concerning the incident was that Germans had been killed.
He was eventually extradited to Italy for trial, but to the surprise of many, was found not guilty for killings he admitted to perpetrating, since he was simply "following orders." An appeal court later claimed this was not a feasible defense and each man was responsible for his own personal actions - upholding a precedent established by the Nuremberg Trials. Due to his old age and ill health, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He died in 2013, aged 100.
Perhaps the most notorious Nazi escapee was Josef Mengele, the chief physician of Auschwitz concentration camp. Mengele used his degrees in anthropology and position at a concentration camp to conduct unscientific and deadly experiments on human subjects - earning him the nickname the "Angel of Death."
In order to find suitable subjects, he was personally involved in separating arriving concentration camp inmates on the 'selection ramp' at Auschwitz. Those who could work or be experimented upon were moved into the camp, while the majority - sometimes 75% to 90% - were sent directly to gas chambers.
Mengele fled in the advance of the Red Army in 1945, eventually being captured by American troops in June that year. However, confusion regarding his name and the fact he lacked a SS blood group tattoo meant he was released shortly afterwards.
He then fled to Argentina under the name Fritz Ullman and settled down in Buenos Aires. However, soon he was able to acquire certificates and even a West German passport under his real name.
The Mossad also attempted to capture Mengele along with Eichmann, but they were unable to track him down. He eventually drowned off the coast of Brazil in 1979.