Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Hunt for Adolf Eichmann

ODESSA

After Germany lost the war, the Nazi war lords fled Berlin to points unknown. They became fugitives who, if caught, would surely face the firing squad or the hangman's rope. Many did. Because they could not live in the open, these criminals, like Eichmann, had to depend on the help of friends and sympathizers. These contacts became part of a secret underground, financed by German businessmen who had profited by the war. They would assist any Nazi fugitive in their efforts to escape Allied justice. They called themselves ODESSA (Organisation der SS Angehorigen: Organization of Former SS Men). Though its existence has never been conclusively proven, there must have been some sort of apparatus in place that assisted Nazi fugitives. Author Zvi Aharoni writes in Operation Eichmann, "no one has been able to explain convincingly who was behind ODESSA, how the organization to help fugitives was structured and who was funding it."

Ostensibly with the help of ODESSA, Eichmann left north Germany and began to make his way south. He took a route that many fleeing Nazis utilized at that time, avoiding the large cities and staying with clergy for short periods of time. Eichmann would travel by night and sleep during the day. He roomed in Catholic monasteries and convents with the full cooperation of clergy who were eager to help former men of the military. During the period immediately after the war, Nazis of every rank, particularly those in the higher echelons of power, were hidden away under the protective umbrella of the Catholic Church.

ID card with Eichmann as Klement
ID card with Eichmann as Klement

In early 1948, Eichmann arrived in Italy and made his way to Rome. He remained in the safe hands of the Franciscan monks while supporters prepared forged papers and a new identity. Soon, Eichmann assumed the name Ricardo Klement with a full set of papers, including a passport. In the meantime, Eichmann's wife appeared in a German court and attempted to have her husband declared dead, a move designed to end efforts for his capture. But Simon Wiesenthal managed to show the court that her statements were lies, designed to throw off his pursuers.

When Eichmann learned that the Israelis were hot on his trail, he left the safe house in Rome and again, with the help of ODESSA, traveled to Syria. In Damascus, he posed as an importer of small arms for Arab interests. He had business dealings with Poland, Switzerland, Germany and Czechoslovakia. For two years, while Israeli assassination squads combed Italy and Sicily for Nazi killers, Eichmann allegedly lived and worked in Damascus as an arms dealer. During this time, he and his wife Veronika (Vera) communicated and made plans for the future.

In early 1950, Eichmann left Syria on a business trip to Genoa. He secretly returned to Rome where he quickly made additional travel arrangements. In June, he left Rome aboard the ship Giovanna C. On July 14, 1950, the most wanted man in the world arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina and began a new life.

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