During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Argentine province of Patagonia became a popular destination for German immigrants. Patagonia had a great deal to offer. Roughly the size of Texas but much more sparsely populated, Patagonia was a place where German immigrants could start from scratch and, instead of assimilating into another culture, create a society of their own. As time passed and more and more Germans moved to Patagonia, German became the principal language in many of the schools, and the German flag was often flown in preference to the Argentine flag. Many of the local German businesses went so far as to hire only German immigrants instead of native Argentines. It might seem remarkable that the central government in Buenos Aires would sit back and allow Patagonia to become virtually a German colony. Buenos Aires, however, was not minding the store. The Argentine Government kept such a low profile in Patagonia in those days that a traveler working his way through Patagonia might not have known that it was a province of the nation of Argentina.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, many Patagonian Germans supported the emerging National Socialist movement in Germany, led by Adolf Hitler. As National Socialism advanced more and more in Germany, German schools and other institutions in Patagonia started to display pictures of Hitler, the Nazi Swastika, and other Nazi paraphernalia. Some critics accused Hitler of planning to formally annex Patagonia as a German colony, but Hitler strenuously denied this.
It is not surprising that with the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, many Nazi officials fled Europe and found a warm welcome in Argentina, then led by Juan Peron, a dictator and admirer of Hitler. In addition to his sympathy with the Nazi ideology, Peron had selfish reasons to take the Nazis in. The ambitious Peron, who ruled the eighth largest nation on earth in terms of land area, believed that the German refugees would bring with them extensive scientific and military technology that might enable Argentina to dominate South America or even become a world power.
Now just as some Nazis were settling in Argentina, others were settling in neighboring Paraguay, a country that in those days was ruled by Alfredo Stroessner, the son of a German immigrant and, like Peron, a Nazi sympathizer. When Peron was overthrown in 1955 and the climate in Argentina became less friendly to the Nazis, many Nazis who had initially settled in his country moved next door to Paraguay, where Stroessner continued to rule unhindered.
Could the fallen German dictator, Adolf Hitler, have been among those Nazis who found refuge in South America? To most historians, the idea is preposterous because everyone knows that Hitler committed suicide in an underground bunker in Berlin at the very end of WWII. But the notion that Hitler had fled Europe did not seem preposterous at the time. Did not Admiral Donitz, the head of the German Navy, once state that the German Navy had prepared a safe haven for Hitler somewhere in the world in the event that Hitler’s position in Europe became untenable? In the immediate aftermath of the war, there was world-wide speculation that Hitler had escaped. For example, on July 17, 1945, the Chicago Sun Times reported that that Hitler was still alive and living on a ranch in Argentina. Some well-informed persons in high places, notably General Dwight Eisenhower and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, took these reports quite seriously. The latter adamantly insisted until he died in 1953 that Hitler had escaped to either Spain or Argentina. But these doubters were increasingly ignored and the view that Hitler had committed suicide in Berlin became the official view and eventually hardened into dogma. Now and again, a few people in South America claimed to have seen Hitler on their continent, but these sightings were regarded in the same light as sightings of Elvis Presley are today.
But the case for Hitler’s suicide had never been airtight. No one had seen Hitler commit suicide and no one had recovered his body. The closest thing to hard evidence of Hitler’s demise that anyone ever had was a skull fragment that was found near the place where he supposedly committed suicide. Scientists from the University of Connecticut, however, have since proved that this fragment belonged to a woman and therefore could not have come from Hitler. Two witnesses did claim to have seen his dead body after he allegedly committed suicide. These accounts, however, are questionable for two reasons. First, they differ greatly in key details, making one suspect that either or both of them are unreliable. Did these two witnesses really see Hitler’s dead body, or were they merely told to say so and did they then fail to coordinate their stories? Secondly, if these witnesses really did see a dead body, was it Hitler’s body or that of someone else? Eyewitnesses tell of very drastic changes in Hitler’s personality during the closing days of WWII. The conventional interpretation of these changes is that Hitler was crumbling psychologically under the pressure of imminent defeat. But it has come to light that Hitler, like many controversial politicians through the years, had a double, a fact not known even to some of his closest associates. Could it be that the changes observed in Hitler’s personality were merely the reflection of the fact that the real Hitler had fled and that his place had been taken by his double?
In recent years, a number of investigators have taken a new look at this matter, and many have come to the conclusion that Hitler did escape after all. What has brought about this shift is considerable new evidence that was not known to previous historians and investigators. Much of this new evidence was dug up by Argentine journalist Abel Basti. Basti has been traveling up and down South America doing research on Hitler for many years and has published several books on this subject in the Spanish language. Recently, he combined all his findings into a new German language book entitled Hitler Uberlebte in Argentinen (“Hitler survived in Argentina”). Hitler Uberlebte in Argentinien also contains new research by Basti not published in any of his previous books as well as contributions from other writers.
Much of this new evidence consists in FBI files dating from the 1940’s and 1950’s and declassified at the end of the 1990’s. For example, a number of FBI documents dating from before the end of WWII express an official fear that even if Germany lost the war, Hitler could still escape justice by finding refuge in South America. Other FBI documents dating from after the end of WWII showed that the FBI continued to look for Hitler in South America long after he had supposedly committed suicide in Berlin. For example, three FBI documents dating from the late summer of 1945 suggested that Hitler was living on a ranch in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in western Argentina. Yet another FBI document from February, 1955 mentions an eyewitness who claimed that he had seen Hitler in South America several years earlier. In fact, the FBI did not close its 700-page file on Hitler until 1970. How can all this FBI activity be explained if Hitler had really committed suicide in 1945?
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