Following postwar trials of Nazis, the search continued for perpetrators of the Holocaust. Only a small percentage of these criminals have been brought to justice.
On May 11, 1960, three members of the Israeli Security Service captured Adolf Eichmann near Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he had been in hiding since 1950. This ended Israel's decade-long search for Eichmann, a key figure in the implementation of the "Final Solution." An Israeli court in Jerusalem subsequently convicted Eichmann of multiple charges including crimes against the Jewish people. Eichmann was sentenced to death and executed; this is the only time that Israel has enacted a death sentence.
Office of Special Investigations
The United States, as well, through the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) in the US Department of Justice, has tracked down suspected Nazi offenders. According to American law, US courts do not have jurisdiction to try individuals for crimes committed outside the United States unless the crimes were committed against American citizens. Therefore, OSI litigates against Nazi war criminals for violating US immigration and naturalization laws. In the 21 years since it was created, OSI has investigated hundreds of cases and sought the denaturalization and/or removal from the United States of more than 117 Nazi war criminals. The vast majority have involved Lithuanian, Latvian, Ukrainian, and ethnic German collaborators who emigrated to the United States shortly after the war from displaced persons camps in Germany and Austria.
The OSI investigated and prosecuted cases against Nazi offenders from 1979 until 2010. (In March 2010, OSI merged with a new Department of Justice section, the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, while continuing with its original mandate.) OSI established a record as the most active and successful such law enforcement unit in the world. It was the only law enforcement unit of its kind to win awards from Holocaust survivor organizations.
Simon Wiesenthal (1908-2005), a Holocaust survivor, dedicated his life to raising public awareness on the need to hunt and prosecute Nazis who have evaded justice. After liberation, he worked for the War Crimes Section of the United States Army, and in 1947 he opened the Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Austria. Wiesenthal is credited for exhorting postwar Western governments to locate and prosecute escaped Nazi offenders as well as offering leads that sometimes led to their extradition.
Among those about whom Wiesenthal provided leads to war crimes investigators are: Adolf Eichmann, administrator of the “Final Solution”; Franz Stangl, commandant of the Sobibor and Treblinka killing centers; and Karl Silberbauer, the Gestapo agent who led the arrest of Anne Frank and her family. Wiesenthal also provided information that led to the discovery that Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan was residing in New York State. Braunsteiner-Ryan was the first Nazi criminal to be extradited from the US.
In 1971, another noted private citizen Nazi hunter, Beate Klarsfeld, tracked down Klaus Barbie ("the butcher of Lyon"), who served as a Security Police official and SD station chief in Lyon, France. After the war, Barbie worked for American military intelligence in Germany. In 1951, he settled in Bolivia under the pseudonym of Klaus Altmann. During his 1987 trial in France, Barbie was charged with, among other atrocities, responsibility for a raid on the General Union of French Jews in Lyon, where some 85 Jews were arrested and deported to the Auschwitz camp in Poland. On July 4, 1987, Barbie was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison.
Josef Mengele, the notorious SS doctor who performed medical experiments on prisoners in Auschwitz, was the target of decades of searching by many parties. In 1949, he was granted asylum in Argentina. In 1960, West Germany asked Argentina to extradite Mengele. He escaped to Brazil, and from there to Paraguay. His fate remained unknown for years. According to one account, he drowned in Brazil in 1979. In 1985, an analysis of human remains suspected to be Mengele's confirmed his death.
The search for and prosecution of Holocaust criminals raises complex moral questions, as well as tangled problems of international law and jurisdiction. As they reach the end of their lives, the vast majority of Nazi offenders have escaped punishment.
Aharoni, Zvi, and Wilhelm Dietl. Operation Eichmann: The Truth About the Pursuit, Capture, and Trial. New York: J. Wiley, 1997.
Bower, Tom. Klaus Barbie, The Butcher of Lyons. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.
Harel, Isser. The House on Garibaldi Street: The First Full Account of the Capture of Adolf Eichmann. Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1997.
Levy, Alan. Nazi Hunter: The Wiesenthal File. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002.
Malkin, Peter Z., and Harry Stein. Eichmann in My Hands. New York: Warner Books, 1990.
Pearlman, Moshe. The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.
Zuroff, Efraim. Occupation, Nazi-hunter: The Continuing Search for the Perpetrators of the Holocaust. Hoboken, NJ: KTAV, 1994.