How many Nazi officials who sent millions of Jews and others to their deaths paid a penalty?
It was very personal; I realized that many people – including my parents and grandparents – never confronted this past.” From there, it was easy to assume a new identity, and travel along established smuggling routes into the Italian Alps – and from there to the Italian port of Genoa, where many Nazis sailed to new lives abroad.At a time when millions of refugees were on the move throughout Europe, it was all too easy for wanted Nazis to blend into the teeming masses of travelers.In the South Tyrol, however, many former Nazis found something more: a warm welcome, in some quarters, and local officials who turned a blind eye to mysterious backgrounds.Steinacher’s research has uncovered a far more complex, nuanced picture of the Vatican’s role after World War II.One powerful factor in the Vatican’s actions in helping Nazi war criminals was its desire to promote absolute forgiveness, rather than turn Nazis over to Allied justice.Much of the Vatican’s actions, too, stemmed from its anti-Communist stance.
After World War II, Pope Pius XII saw Communism – both in the Soviet Union and in Italy’s strong domestic Communist political party – as the single greatest threat to the Catholic Church.
He described his experience there, in the village of Graun: ‘My standard German will betray me,’ (Schedereit) thought.
The friendly, grizzled farmer came over to him with a full glass of red wine in his hand. Don’t worry, son, there are no…Italians here, just Germans! ” As Steinacher dug through historical documents, he found that some of the most notorious Nazis blended into South Tyrolean communities after the War.
“In Austria, there were not that many people who wanted to know.” One person who did want to know was Simon Wiesenthal, the Austrian Jewish “Nazi hunter” who compiled information on hundreds of former Nazis. Steinacher remembers that Wiesenthal “was really hated by many Austrians being a lonely voice in the Austrian desert.
He wanted to keep this topic alive.” One way was to promote the “Odessa” theory.
“You don’t understand us, but we did the right thing,” Steinacher was told again and again in his research, as he spoke with senior Church officials who helped former Nazis escape justice.