Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) played an active role in helping Nazis flee from Germany to Argentina after World War II. This, according to todayâ€™s London Times and a Dutch TV current affairs program, “Netwerk.” Among those war criminals who might have made it safely to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, aboard KLM were Adolf Eichmann, engineer of “the final solution,”Â and Dr. Joseph Mengele, the so-called “Angel of Death.”
At the end of World War II, those involved in the Nazi regime were prohibited from leaving Germany. Many of them were scheduled to stand trial at Nuremberg. These individuals were willing to make an offer that KLM could not refuse – as much as $45,000 per person in 1940s dollars (that would be about $364,000 today!), a considerable profit in those times for the airline. KLM employees in Buenos Aires, according to the reports, acted as mediators in helping the Nazis to flee. Switzerland was also involved in the complicity, since the first leg of the escape began in that country, using KLM as a launch pad to the new world
Once in Argentina,Â General Juan Peron, received them at the presidential palace and arranged jobs and new identities for them. Miranda France, author of Donâ€™t Cry for Me, the Real Odessa, writes that “during the war, Peron nurtured hopes of leading a pro-Nazi block in Latin America. Meetings were held with Heinrich Himmler and Joachim von Ribbentrop, who outlined how a victorious Germany would transplant its ideology to Argentina.” Peron considered the Nuremberg trials to be an outrageous affront to military honor, notes France, and thus had sufficient motivation to be part of “the greatest escape ever in the annals of crime.”
The Dutch documentary, “Netwerk,” revealed that the Dutch ambassador in Argentina was quite concerned about what was going on in the late 1940s, even going so far as to write to the foreign minister about the number of Germans working in the Buenos Aires office of KLM. Swissair, the national airline of Switzerland, was suspected of acting as a booking agent for these clandestine activities, as were Air France and Air Sweden.
During the war itself, millions of dollars in gold, silver, and other valuables belonging to Holocaust victims and plundered by the Nazis, were transported via ship and submarine to various countries, including Argentina. Documents uncovered by the U.S. Senate Banking Committee and the World Jewish Congress divulged that Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels were among those using Swiss diplomatic pouches to send their ill-gotten wealth to South America.
While KLM has vigorously denied these recent allegations, the Dutch record during World War II is a mixed bag. Some 22,000 Dutch men joined the Waffen-SS to fight as volunteers on the front lines with the Germans. And Dutch police records were used to round up Jews and transport them via a Dutch transit camp to Auschwitz. After the war, many Jews who returned to Holland said they received a very cold reception.
Following the London Times story, KLM admitted that some of its passengers headed for Argentina in the 1940s may have been Nazis, but that they passed the security checks then in force. Besides, said the airline, it was not their job at the time to police travelers. Airline spokesmen now say they plan to conduct their own independent inquiry, and Paul Scheltus, writing for the Buenos Aires Herald, says the Dutch Parliament in calling for an investigation into the airline’s past.
Dutch filmmakers have reportedly uncovered materials that show German passengers in the 1940s were permitted to enter Switzerland without passports or other documentation, and that KLM allowed them, without further inquiry, to continue on to Argentina. The Dutch documentary makers say the materials they exposed show that KLM “was in fact intensely involved in transporting Nazis,” and that 1940s passenger lists discovered in Argentina contain long lists of German names, including certified former Nazis. This story does not begin or end with KLM, of course, since Nazis fleeing postwar Germany are known to have received assistance from the Red Cross and the Vatican.
Until this weekâ€™s revelations, the worst public relations issue Royal Dutch Airlines has had to deal with is the 1977 disaster on the island of Tenerife in which a KLM senior captain took off without clearance and slammed his 747 jumbo jet into a Pan Am 747 still on the runway. The crash resulted in the loss of 583 lives, the highest number of deaths in any single aviation accident in history.
This new chapter in KLM history has a certain horror and fascination all its own – giving mass murderers from Hitlerâ€™s regime ( Eichmann being an exception, since he was captured by the Israelis in Argentina and convicted and hanged in 1962), a passport to freedom and the opportunity to live out the rest of their lives in tranquility and comfort in the balmy climes of South America. Welcome aboard, and please make certain your seat backs and trays are in the upright position.