Pursuit of Nazi collaborators explained

The pursuit of Nazi collaborators refers to the post-WWII pursuit and apprehension of individuals who were not citizens of the Third Reich at the outbreak of World War II and collaborated with the Nazi regime during the war. Hence, this article does not cover former members of the NSDAP and their fate after the war.


There were a number of motives for the apprehension of suspected collaborators, the main motives were Revenge for those killed, especially those killed on ethnic grounds in the Holocaust (principally amongst Jews and Russians). A desire after a bitter war, to see those responsible face justice, and be characterised as criminals under a court of law (See Nuremberg Trials). To ensure that the acts done were brought to light and placed on formal record, with evidence, so that they could never be denied (some of the acts being so unthinkable that denial was plausible). A widespread sense that wanton annihilation of whole communities and cultures on such a scale was intolerable and must not be left unpursued even despite the inadequacy of existing laws.Other motives included were the fear that a "Nazi underground" of some kind existed, such as the ODESSA, which would allow the enemy to somehow regroup for their proclaimed Fourth Reich.

Means of pursuit

This pursuit takes many forms, both individual and organised. Several organizations and individuals (famous Nazi hunters) pursue ex-Nazis or Nazi Collaborators who allegedly engaged in war crimes or crimes against humanity. The pursuits took varied forms such as Individuals who reported they saw someone that they recognised, who had now assumed an identity and were slipping back into civilian life undetected. Specific individuals were named and sought by groups or governments for their activities in the war. Others were subject to after-war spontaneous retaliation committed by populations within occupied countries, which in some areas led to "Witch hunts" for those suspected of having been collaborators, where Vigilantism and "summary justice", were common often without trial. After a first period of spontaneous pursuit, provisional governments took the matter into their hands and brought suspected criminals before courts.

The Nuremberg Trial in Germany judged only the highest Nazi authorities, but each country attempted in judging its Collaborationists (e.g. Pierre Laval in France was judged and sentenced to death, while Philippe Pétain was also sentenced to death, but Charles de Gaulle later commuted his sentence into a life condemnation). Government action to the form of investigation and interrogation for people suspected to be such. For example: U.S. DOJ Office of Special Investigations.

Infiltration of Nazi support and escape organisations (the most famous one being the ODESSA network and its various "ratlines") and those believed to be aiding and abetting them. However, many suspected war criminals were also amnestied, some of whom succeeding in reaching high positions in post-war administrations (i.e. Maurice Papon, who became Police Prefect of Paris in charge during the Algerian War (1954-62), leading to tragic events such as the 1961 Paris massacre). Others were never even tried such as Robert de Foy who resumed being head of the Belgian State Security Service 1945-1958.

Pursuit in specific countries


Argentina was a popular destination for Nazis. Declassified files show how Buenos Aires helped establish a network to rescue Collaborators and Nazis from post war Europe. The Network issued false paperwork to help Nazis escape the Allies, via the port of Genoa and finally by ship to Argentina. Once in Argentina Juan Perón's government protected them and they settled in the southern regions of the country. In early October 1999 Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff tracked Ustasha Dinko Šakić, the former commandant of Jasenovac concentration camp (nicknamed the “Auschwitz of the Balkans”). Sakic had lived in Argentina for more than fifty years. He was extradited to Croatia and sentenced by a Zagreb court to twenty year's imprisonment for his crimes.http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22509603-5006789,00.html


Latvia applied to Australia to extradite Konrads Kalejs, allegedly a senior officer in the pro-Nazi Arajs Commando, but he died on November 8 2001 before he could be extradited. Kalejs migrated to Australia in 1950 and took citizenship. Hungary applied and successfully extradited Charles Zentai from Australia. He was accused of the murder of Peter Balazs, an 18-year old Jewish man, in Budapest in November 1944, while serving in the Hungarian Army. However, at the subsequent trial Charles Zentai was cleared of any involvement in the killing, following evidence from his commanding officer. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jan/08/secondworldwar.argentina


Belgium imprisoned Belgian nationals who had collaborated with the Nazis and executed some. One Belgian to be sentenced to execution was Pierre Daye, however he was one of the first Nazis Collaborators to escape Europe, and unusually by plane.He fled to Argentina with the help of Charles Lescat, also collaborator of Je suis partout [1] . Once in Argentina he attended a meeting organized by Juan Peron in the Casa Rosada during which a network (colloquially called ratlines) was created, to organize the escape of collaborationists and former Nazis [2] . On June 17, 1947, Belgium requested his extradition from Argentina, however the Argentine Government ignored this request. Now secure in his freedom Pierre Daye resumed his writing activities, becoming the editor of an official Peronist review [3] . http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22509603-5006789,00.html

Henri de Man was one of the leading Belgian socialist theoreticians of his period, who collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II. After the liberation of Belgium, he crossed the border to Switzerland.[4] He was convicted in absentia of treason after the war. He died in 1953, together with his wife, in a collision with a train.[4]


Actions against Nazi collaborators in Czechoslovakia, real or alleged, had two significant forms, by judiciary or by mob justice. Immediately after liberation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet and American armies, in an atmosphere of chaos, wild chases began. Individual acts of revenge, mob violence, and simply criminal acts motivated by the possibility to rob or loot targets, occurred. In some places were conducted, by organized groups of self-styled partisans, violence which resembled what is today known as ethnic cleansing. In most places this stopped when the provisional Czechoslovak government and local authorities took power. Other forms included legal action, undertaken by the state administration, after the war, until the regular Czechoslovak parliament was established. President Beneš ruled by issuing decrees, which were later ratified by parliament.

By decree 5/1945 property of untrustworthy persons was put under national administration. Untrustworthy were considered German and Hungarian nationals, and people who were active in destruction of the Czechoslovak state and its democratic government, supported Nazi occupation by any means, or were members of organizations considered fascist or collaborator.By the same decree, property of people of German and Hungarian nationality, who could prove they were anti-Nazi, should have been returned to them.

By decree 12/1945 Sb. farm property of German and Hungarian nationals or citizens was confiscated, unless they could prove active resistance against Nazism. Property of traitors, and enemies of the republic was confiscated no matter what nationality or citizenship. By decree 16/1945 Sb. special tribunals were set up. These people's courts had right to sentence to long term imprisonment, life sentence or death. Prosecutions varied from verbal support to those who had committed crimes against humanity, no prosecution was based on ethnicity. By 33/1945 Sb. people of German and Hungarian nationality or ethnicity lost Czechoslovakian citizenship. However, they had right to apply for renewal.

Most problematic was the law 115/1946 about resistance against Nazi regime, which shifted limit of immunity to the year 1946, effectively amnestying all crimes, acts of individual revenge and atrocities against Germans and Hungarians long after war.People who lost Czechoslovakian citizenship and failed to apply or did not get it were transferred to Germany, many through the transfer camp established at Terezín, also known as the Theresienstadt concentration camp.


See also: Epuration légale. After the liberation, France was briefly swept by a wave of executions of suspected collaborators. Women who were suspected of having romantic liaisons with Germans, or more often of being German prostitutes, were publicly humiliated by having their heads shaved. Those who had engaged in the black market were also stigmatized as "war profiteers" (profiteurs de guerre). However, the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF, 1944-46) quickly reestablished order, and brought Collaborationists before the courts. Many convicted Collaborationists were then amnestied under the Fourth Republic (1946-54), while some civil servants, such as Maurice Papon, succeeding in holding important functions even under Charles de Gaulle and the Fifth Republic (1958-).

Three different periods are distinguished by historians:The first phase of popular convictions, executions without judgments and shaving of women's heads. Estimations by police prefects made in 1948 and 1952 counted as much as 6,000 executions before the Liberation, and 4,000 afterwards. The second phase (legal epuration or épuration légale), which began with Charles de Gaulle's June 26 and June 27, 1944 ordonnances on epuration judgments of Collaborationists by the Commissions d'épuration, who condemned approximatively 120,000 persons (Charles Maurras, leader of the royalist Action française, condemned to life sentence on January 25, 1945). The third phase, more lenient towards Collaborationists (the trial of Philippe Pétain or of writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline)

In 1944-51, official courts in France sentenced 6,763 people to death (3,910 in absentia) for treason and other offenses; only 791 executions were actually carried out. More common was “National degradation,” a loss of face and civil rights, which was meted out to 49,723 people.[5]

Philippe Pétain, the former head of Vichy France, was charged with treason in July 1945. He was convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad, but Charles de Gaulle commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Most convicts were amnestied a few years later. In the police, collaborators soon resumed official responsibilities. This continuity of the administration was pointed out, in particular concerning the events of the Paris massacre of 1961, executed under the orders of head of the Parisian police Maurice Papon, who was judged in the 1990s for his role during Vichy.

The French members of the Waffen-SS Charlemagne Division who survived the war were regarded as traitors. Some of the more prominent officers were executed, while the rank-and-file were given prison terms; some of them were given the option of doing time in Indochina (1946-54) with the Foreign Legion instead of prison.

Many war criminals were judged only in the 1980s: Paul Touvier, Klaus Barbie (who worked after war for the CIA), Maurice Papon (above-mentioned), René Bousquet, head of French police during the war, and his deputy Jean Leguay (the last two were both convicted for their responsibilities in the July 1942 rafle du Vel'd'hiv, or Vel'd'Hiv raid). Famous Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld spent decades trying to bring them before the courts. A fair amount of Collaborationists then joined the OAS terrorist movement during the Algerian War (1954-62). Jacques de Bernonville escaped to Quebec, then Brazil. Jacques Ploncard d'Assac became counsellor of Salazar in Portugal.

Executions without trials and other forms of popular justice, were harshly criticized immediately after the war, with circles close to Pétainism advancing the figures of 100,000, and denouncing the "Red Terror," "anarchy" or "blind vengeance." Journalist Robert Aron estimated the popular executions to a number of 40,000 in 1960, provoking de Gaulle's surprise, who estimated the real number to be around 10,000, which is the figure today admitted by mainstream historians. Approximatively 9,000 of these 10,000 refers to summary executions in the whole of the country, which occurred during battle. In absolute terms (numbers), there were fewer legal executions in France than in neighbouring, and much smaller, Belgium, and fewer internments than in Norway or Netherlands.


See also: Axis occupation of Greece during World War II. Greece was under occupation by the Third Reich from 1941 to 1944. After the liberation, the country followed a controversial period of "de-Nazification". Many collaborators and especially former leaders of the Nazi-held puppet regime in Athens were sentenced to death penalties. General Georgios Tsolakoglou, the first quisling prime minister, was tried by the Greek Special Collaborators Court in 1945 and sentenced to death, but his penalty like most death sentences was commuted to life imprisonment. The following quisling leader Konstantinos Logothetopoulos, who had fled to Germany after the Wehrmacht's withdrawal, was caught by the U.S. military and was condemned to life imprisonment. In 1951, he was given parole and thus died outside prison. Ioannis Rallis, the third quisling prime minister, was trailed on treason charge, the court sentenced him to life imprisonment. However, several lower and middle figures, that had collaborated with the Germans, especially members of the Security Battalions and the gendarmerie, were soon released and reinstated in their posts: in the developing Greek Civil War, their anti-Communist credentials were more important than their collaboration. Indeed, in many cases the same people, who had collaborated with the Germans and staffed the post-war security establishment, persecuted leftist former Resistance members.


See main article: Legal purge in Norway after World War II.

Vidkun Quisling, the war time Norwegian "Minister President", along with, among others, Nasjonal Samling leaders, Albert Viljam Hagelin and Ragnar Skancke, were convicted and executed by firing squad. A total of 45 people were sentenced to death and 37 were executed (25 Norwegians and 12 Germans). Both at the time and later these sentences have been the subject of some debate, since the decision to reintroduce capital punishment to the Norwegian legal system for the post war trials was based on clauses in military law. Capital punishment in the Criminal Code had been abolished in 1904. The decision was made by the exiled Norwegian government in London in 1944, later to be debated three times in the Parliament during the trials, and to be confirmed by the Supreme Court.


In occupied Poland the status of Volksdeutsche had many privileges but one big disadvantage: Volksdeutsche were conscripted into the German army. The Volksliste had 4 categories. No. 1 and No. 2 were considered ethnic Germans, while No. 3 and No. 4 were ethnic Poles that signed the Volksliste. No. 1 and No. 2 in the Polish areas re-annexed by Germany numbered ~1,000,000 and No. 3 and No. 4 ~1,700,000. In the General Government there were ~120,000 Volksdeutsche.

Volksdeutsche of Polish origins were treated by Poles with special contempt, and also it constituted high treason according to Polish law. German citizens that remained on territory of Poland became as a group personae non gratae. They had a choice of applying for Polish citizenship or being expelled to Germany. The property that belonged to Germans, German companies and German state, was confiscated by the Polish state along with many other properties in communist Poland.

German owners, as explicitly stated by the law, were not eligible for any compensation. Those who decided to apply became subject to a verification process. At the beginning many acts of violence against Volksdeutsche took place. However, soon the verification of Volksdeutsche became controlled by the juridical process and was completed in a more controlled manner.

Soviet Union

Soviet and other Russian members of the Russian Liberation Army and the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia were pursued tried and either sent to the gulags or executed.

Many Soviet Prisoners of War were seen to have collaborated with the Nazis, even if they had done no more than been captured by the Wehrmacht, and spent the war in a camp. Many such unfortunate Soviet citizens were persecuted on their repatriation to the Soviet Union. In general, after a short trial, if they were not executed, Nazi collaborators were imprisoned in Gulag forced labor camps.

The Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was abolished and Volga Germans were banished from their settlements on the Volga River with many being deported to Siberia or Kazakhstan.

Baltic Republics

In the Baltic Republics, Estonian SSR, Latvian SSR and Lithuanian SSR, most collaborators had escaped with the retreating German army, or taken an oversea route to Sweden. In the Estonian war crimes trials of 1961 and 1962 several collaborators were sentences for participation and leadership in the Holocaust in Estonia. Many of the accused escaped punishment in exile or by suicide. Karl Linnas was finally deported by the United States and died in Leningrad while awaiting retrial.

United Kingdom

At the end of the war a number of people were tried for high treason. These included members of the Waffen-SS British Free Corps and William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw). As agreed at the Yalta Conference, the British handed back many Soviet citizens to the Soviet regime. Some of these were collaborators who had fought in the Russian Liberation Army. In later years there would be a controversy because some of those handed over were White Russians who had never been Soviet citizens. Yugoslavs were handed over to Tito's forces, and many were subsequently killed.

In 1948 Victor Arajs, who was the leader of the eponymous commando unit which helped the Nazis murder the Jews of Latvia and Belarus, had been captured in the British zone of occupied Germany after the war but was allowed to go free. He remained at large until 1979 when West Germany put him on trial. One of Arajs's deputies, Harijs Svikeris, settled in Britain after the war and in the 1990s was thought to be a strong candidate to be prosecuted under the War Crimes Act, but he died before a prosecution was brought.

In 1961 Ain-Ervin Mere was put on trial for leadership in the murder of 5000 foreign Jews in Estonia, but his extradition was denied by British authorities. On April 1 1999, Anthony Sawoniuk was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of murdering two Jews in the UK's first full Nazi war crimes trial. Sawoniuk had led "search-and-kill" police squads to hunt down Jews trying to escape after nearly 3,000 were massacred at Domachevo in Nazi-occupied Belarus during September, 1942. He died in prison on November 7 2005 at the age of 84http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4413786.stm.


The reprisals for collaboration with the Nazis were particularly harsh in Yugoslavia, because collaborators were also on the losing side of a de facto civil war fought on the Yugoslav territory during WWII. The Partisans executed many Ustashe and Chetniks, as well as their collaborators. One of the best documented incidents was the Bleiburg massacre.

See also

External links

Notes and References

  1. http://www.argentina-rree.com/portal/archivos/justicia01.htm Extradiciones
  2. http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-14198-2002-12-15.html La Odessa que creó Perón
  3. [Mark Falcoff]
  4. Jean-Marie Tremblay. Henri de Man, 1885-1953, Professeur à l’Université libre de Bruxelles, Député et ministre dans le parlement belge (French), University of Quebec, 9 October 2006 (Google translation)
  5. Judt, Tony, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Pimlico (London: 2007), p. 46.