USS Ranger traverses the Panama Canal during World War II. (Wikimedia Commons)
More than 70 years after the end of World War II, several South American nations are continuing to deal in how they accepted, or at least turned a blind eye to, Nazis among them. Chile had a special unit called Department 50 that, according to newly declassified reports, neither ignored nor accepted the presence or activities of some of the most evil individuals to ever walk the earth: They went after them, with a vengeance.
One of the plots they foiled, Deutche Welle has reported, included an intended mission that could have altered the shape of the war and the world: The aim was to “destroy” the Panama Canal. The Germans clearly had figured out how critical that passageway was to the war effort, as it enabled the Americans the move troops, ships, and materiel westward, to stock the Pacific Theater, as the war intensified and, ultimately, reached its final conclusion there.
The rise of Department 50 marked an about-face for Chile, which resisted, until 1943, declaring war against the Axis (Germany-affiliated) nations. Deutche Welle said that South America-based spy rings monitored, on behalf of the Germans, Allied merchant ships, monitored Chilean naval communications and otherwise acted on behalf of Axis interests.
Prensa Latina reported this week that the newly-released documents “reveal the assistance provided by Nazi sympathizers in Chile by sending information to Germany about the routes followed by the Allies’ merchant ships.” Fortunately, the play to bomb the Panama Canal was thwarted – and two spy rings were broken up as a result of Department 50’s efforts. Prensa Latina said Chile eventually had 22 agents dedicated to working against the Nazis.
“If they had prospered in their objectives, it could have changed not only Chile’s history, but the history of the whole world,” said Hector Espinosa, the director general of the investigations police, during a ceremony to hand over the reports to Chile’s National Archives.
But much of Chile and South America’s past with the Nazis is less heroic. Christopher Klein at History.com reports that high-ranking Nazis, including Adolf Eichmann and Dr. Josef Mengele, found refuge in South America, along with at least 9,000 Nazi officers and collaborators who fled to Argentina, Chile and Brazil.
The Nazi connection to Argentina has also been in the spotlight recently. Just last week police found 75 significant Nazi-related artifacts in a hidden room in Argentina. Photographs indicated some of them may have even been owned or used by Hitler himself.