“NAZI HUNTERS” chronicles the stories of those individuals who chased some of the most hated and reviled criminals on earth. Prepared to hunt the perpetrators of the World War II atrocities that shocked the world, these pursuers of justice included the likes of Winston Churchill, the British Special Air Services, the strategists who planned the D-Day landings and the Israeli Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (Mossad).
Peiper – The Murderer of Malmedy
Wed Apr 27 at 10:00PM on KCET
Joachim Peiper and his vicious bunch of SS thugs marched U.S. 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion into a field near Malmedy in January 1945 and shot them. There were also a series of other massacres of U.S. soldiers which were attributed to Peiper. The Nazis were brought to justice in a very messy way. The investigators were accused of physically beating up the defendants, extracting false confessions. Though they were all found guilty, such was the outcry against the prosecution’s methods in the U.S., none of them were sentenced to death. Instead, they were sent to prison.
Death Camp Kommondant
Wed May 4 at 10:00PM on KCET
Franz Stangl was the Nazi commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor death camps in Poland. He was responsible for the extermination of approximately 900,000 men, women and children. At the end of the war, he escaped to Italy where he joined a “rat-line” organized by Vatican officials. From there, he disappeared. Simon Wiesenthal, a survivor of the Holocaust, vowed to track down some of the Nazi monsters who had put him and so many other Jews through hell. After years of searching, Wiesenthal tracked Stangl down in Brazil. He was extradited to West Germany where he was put on trial for the deaths of 900,000 people. Found guilty in 1970, Stangl was sentenced to life imprisonment and died of heart failure in Dusseldorf prison in 1971.
The ‘Good’ Nazi?
Wed May 11 at 10:00PM on KCET
Albert Speer’s crimes included using and organizing slave labor in death camps and prolonging the war by his fanatical work to develop the Nazi war machine. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey tracked Speer down and spirited him away to a country house after the war, where he was extensively questioned, giving the Americans detailed information about the effectiveness of U.S. bombing. This was critical intelligence and would eventually shape much of U.S. strategy during the Cold War. The Americans eventually handed him over to the U.N. In a move that shocked his codefendants, Speer admitted many of his crimes. This apparent act of contrition led the judges to sentence him only to imprisonment rather than death. After the release from jail, Speer marketed himself as “the good Nazi,” the only one who admitted his errors.
The Angel of Death
Wed May 18 at 10:00PM on KCET
Joseph Mengele experimented on adults and children in the Auschwitz death camps. He was a prime target and was, for many years, the world’s most wanted criminal. The Hunters were Simon Wiesenthal, the U.N. War Crimes Commission and even Mossad. But none of them succeeded. The method Wiesenthal used to track Mengele was the following up of disparate clues, no matter how obscure. He would scour newspapers from all over the world, looking for unusual names, or sightings of possible Germans in unlikely places, such as small towns in South America. He suspected he was being sheltered by a well funded Nazi organization – and he was right. Throughout years of chasing, Mengele always got away. He drowned in Latin America in 1979.
The Jewish Avengers
Wed May 25 at 10:00PM on KCET
After the war, a Jewish group called the Avengers were horrified by the number of known Nazis with blood on their hands who were simply allowed to resume their normal lives. They decided to hunt these Nazis down. In the spring of 1945, as World War II was drawing to its end, a Passover gathering was addressed by Abba Kovner, a survivor of the Jewish uprising in the Vilna ghetto. He spoke passionately, invoking Psalm 94, in which God promises that he shall deal with the enemies of the people of Israel: “He will repay them for their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness.” Among those who heard him were Joseph Harmatz and Leipe Distel. Together they would become the Avengers. Drunk on their power, and believing they were above the law, the Avengers went for one monstrous act of revenge. It was planned by Abba Kovner. He decided that the Germans must suffer as the Jews had suffered. An eye for an eye. Six million for six million. He wanted to poison the water supplies of Munich, Berlin, Nuremburg, Hamburg and Weimar. But someone high in the Zionist hierarchy betrayed him and he was arrested by British Military Police.
Killing of Reinhard Heydrich
Wed Jun 1 at 10:00PM on KCET
Reinhard Heydrich was one of the main architects of the Holocaust, answering directly to Hitler. Heydrich chaired the infamous Wannsee Conference, which approved the deportation of the Jews to extermination camps. He became “Protector” of the occupied Czech territories of Moravia and Bohemia, which he ran with a rule of iron. In London, the Czechoslovak government in exile was encouraged to plot the assassination of Heydrich by the British Government. They realized that his death would lead to retaliation – but both the British and the Czechs judged that the price was worth paying. On May 27, 1942, Heydrich was ambushed while he rode in his open car in the Prague suburb of Kobylisy. Heydrich died on June 4, 1942 of septicemia, from injuries he suffered in the ambush bombing.
Hunting Adolf Eichmann
Wed Jun 8 at 10:00PM on KCET
Adolf Eichmann was the SS officer charged with the Final Solution, the man charged with transporting the Jews to the Nazi extermination camps. In 1945, Eichmann was arrested by the Allies, but the next year – unrecognized as the arch villain he was – he escaped and disappeared. Isser Harel, chief of Mossad, Israel’s legendary intelligence agency was determined to hunt down Eichmann. His task was to get to Eichmann and put him on trial before rogue members of the Avengers, the group of Jews dedicated to killing all Nazis, got to him first.
In Autumn 1957, the Israeli Foreign Ministry got a phone call from the public prosecutor of Hesse, Germany, saying that Eichmann was alive and living in Argentina. The information was passed on to Isser Harel. Harel flew to Argentina to personally supervise the mission with a 30-strong team and on May 11, a Mossad agent grabbed Eichmann and dragged him into a car. A week later, he was drugged and smuggled out of Argentina in an El-Al plane. In 1961, Eichmann was put on trial in Israel, televised before the world, found guilty of crimes against humanity and hanged.
The Monster and the Butcher
Wed Jun 15 at 10:00PM on KCET
Klaus Barbie was head of the Gestapo in Lyon, France in WWII. His job was to crush French resistance and his barbarity earned him the nickname “Butcher of Lyon.” Responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 French men and women, Barbie disappeared after the war. “Ivan the Terrible,” aka Ivan Grozny, aka Ivan Marchenko, had been a spectacularly brutal Ukrainian guard at the Treblinka death camp.
Husband and wife team Serge and Beate Klarsfeld went in search of Klaus Barbie and first found him in Peru. He then fled to Bolivia, but the Klarsfelds did not give up. In 1983, their relentless political pressure paid off and Barbie was jailed in Bolivia for debt. He was returned to Lyons, the site of his most notorious wartime crimes, and was charged with crimes against humanity. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Four years later, he died in prison from cancer. The pursuit of Ivan the Terrible called into question the single minded avenging of war crimes. In October 1983, the Israeli authorities heard that a man suspected of being Ivan the Terrible had been found living in Ohio as a retired auto worker. His name was John Demjanjuk. The U.S. deported him and a sensational trial began. It seemed an open and shut case. But then the case unraveled. The evidence from the U.S.S.R. turned out to have been faked – probably to embarrass the U.S. by showing how it had been harboring war criminals.