Brief History: Nazi Fugitives

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An identity card allegedly used by Josef Mengele, who apparently went by the name Wolfgang Gerhard in Brazil.

The U.S. Government now admits that it harbored former Nazis. A 600-page report recently released by the Justice Department claims that despite the 1979 formation of the Office of Special Investigations (OSI)--a federal agency designed specifically to track down and deport Nazis--the U.S. offered "safe haven" to fugitives deemed useful by Washington in the struggle against the old Soviet Union.

Yet despite that obvious outrage, the U.S. and its allies were heavily engaged for decades in hunting down Nazis who had fled Germany in the waning days of World War II. Some, such as Auschwitz physician Josef Mengele, dubbed the "Angel of Death," escaped. Mengele remained successfully hidden under a pseudonym in Brazil until 1979, when he suffered a stroke while swimming and drowned. But John Demjanjuk, who relocated to the U.S. in 1952 and became a Ford autoworker in Ohio, could not evade his past. Demjanjuk has been tried twice for his alleged involvement in the Holocaust: once in 1987, when he was misidentified as Treblinka prison guard "Ivan the Terrible" and sentenced to death (the conviction was later overturned), and again in 2009, for reportedly overseeing the deaths of 29,000 people at Poland's Sobibor death camp (that trial is ongoing).

Other former Nazis were recruited by U.S. agencies for espionage, warfare research and other covert operations during the Cold War. In one program, an estimated 100 former SS officers--including, say recent reports, Otto von Bolschwing, a senior administrator during the Holocaust--spied on the Soviet Union for the CIA. In 1954, the CIA helped von Bolschwing emigrate to the U.S. despite his "objectionable background." Even for some masterminds of the Holocaust, there were still roads to redemption.