Airline accused of helping Nazis to fleeDavid Charter
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The Dutch national airline is facing calls for an inquiry into its role in helping Nazis to flee to South America, after the discovery of documents suggesting that it played an active role in smuggling suspected war criminals out of Germany.
KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines, has always denied that it had a policy of assisting Nazis to escape justice at the hands of the Allies after the Second World War, when hundreds escaped to Argentina.
But papers revealing the activities of a mysterious Herr Frick in trying to help Germans to cross into Switzerland then to fly to Buenos Aires have raised fresh questions about the behaviour of one of Europe’s best-known airlines in the mid-1940s.
“The documents give the distinct impression that KLM was intensively involved in transporting Nazis,” said Marc Dierikx, an aviation historian at the Institute for Netherlands History in The Hague.
Argentina provided sanctuary for many Germans fleeing war-torn Europe after the war.
It was the refuge of senior Nazis such as Joseph Mengele, the doctor at Auschwitz nicknamed the Angel of Death, and Adolf Eichmann, who oversaw the death camps where millions perished.
The existence of a shadowy network of Nazi sympathisers helping to organise the escape route was depicted in Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Odessa File.
Suspected war criminals could not obtain official papers to leave Germany. But some adopted false identities, and KLM acknowledges that some of its passengers were probably fleeing Nazis. It insists, however, that its role was not to police its passengers but to carry those who turned up with valid papers who had completed airport security checks by the Allied authorities.
In papers unearthed in Swiss archives by Dutch documentary-makers, Herr Frick, said to be a KLM representative, is documented in October 1948 asking the Swiss authorities to allow potential passengers from Germany to cross the border without the proper papers.
Sander Rietveld, a journalist on the Netwerk programme, said: “It is a memo from the Swiss border police about a visit of the local KLM representative Herr Frick. He asked the Swiss police to allow Germans without an Ersatzpasse – or permission of the Allies – to enter Switzerland so that they could board planes to Argentina. On this occasion the Swiss police refused, although we know that in reality they did allow Germans to pass without permission. The point is that it shows KLM actively approached the Swiss police.”
KLM said that it did not know of a former employee called Herr Frick. However, passenger lists unearthed in the Argentine capital show long lists of German names, including two former Nazis.
Opposition MPs are demanding an independent inquiry and Bart Koster, a spokesman for KLM, said that he would advise the company’s board to commission one. He told Radio Netherlands: “If we really want to be sure what happened, we have to have a thorough investigation.”
An inquiry could reopen controversy about the role of the Dutch Royal Family as the late Prince Bernhard, father of Queen Beatrix, was on KLM's board in the postwar years.
But Mr Koster said that there was nothing in the formal board minutes or in KLM’s archives to indicate it had been involved in the transportation of former Nazi criminals from Germany.