Despite Rauff’s Death, Wiesenthal Center Will Still Press Vatican to Conduct Probe into Church-relat
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Despite Rauff’s Death, Wiesenthal Center Will Still Press Vatican to Conduct Probe into Church-relat

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The Simon Wiesenthal Center said today that it will continue to press the Vatican to conduct an investigation into church-related activities in Italy involving Walter Rauff, the Nazi war criminal and inventor of the mobile gas vans, despite his death at the age of 77 yesterday in Chile of a heart attack.

“It does not put the matter to rest,” said Gerald Margolis, director of the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center. He said the Center will continue to urge Pope John Paul 11 to open Vatican archives and investigate what the Center alleges was church aid to Rauff after the war and help for him in fleeing Europe to safe haven in South America.

The Center just last week released 43 pages of documents, some of them previously classified by U.S. government intelligence agencies, which provide additional information linking Rauff to important figures in the Catholic church in Italy during and after the war. Rauff told the Chilean Supreme Court in 1962 that he was provided aid and shelter by the church.


In Israel, the reaction to Rauff’s death was a sense of frustration that war criminals continue to remain free without being brought to justice for their war crimes. “It is a pity that this man will not be brought to justice,” said Avi Pasner, spokesman for Premier Yitzhak Shamir. “It is shameful. We hope that other war criminals who are still hiding will not escape their punishment.”

Gideon Hausner, chairman of Yad Vashem and prosecutor of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann at his 1961 trial, express similar frustration that Rauff never was brought to justice. He said Rauff was one of the privileged war criminals to have died in his own bed, escaping justice for many years.


Rauff is held responsible for the death of an estimated 200,000 Jews in Europe who were killed in the mobile gas vans he designed which channelled exhaust fumes back into the air-tight vehicles. Known as “black ravens,” the vans were sometimes disguised as Red Cross vehicles. They were used primarily in the early stages of the Holocaust before the construction of Auschwitz and other death camps which carried out Hitler’s final solution on a larger scale.

Born in Kothen, Germany, on June 19, 1906, Rauff joined Hitler’s Nazi police at the age of 31. He moved up to the rank of colonel in the SS and later served in Tunisia and Italy before being arrested in Milan where he was the police chief in the war’s last stages. He was sent to the Rimini detention center, but soon escaped and at the end of 1946 went to Naples. In testimony before the Chilean Supreme Court, Rauff said he was aided in Italy after his escape from Rimini by a Catholic priest and sheltered in “convents of the Holy See” for some 18 months.

He was reunited with his family and travelled to Syria, then to Ecuador in 1949 and finally to Chile where he lived since 1958. He maintained his German citizenship. In 1963, the Chilean Supreme Court rejected a request for his extradition from West Germany on the basis that Chile’s 15 year statute of limitations had expired.


Rauff, who suffered from lung cancer in recent years, had lived primarily in Santiago and was rarely seen in public. Last February, Beate Klarsfeld, the famed Nazi-hunter, was arrested outside Rauff’s home in Santiago during a demonstration urging the Chilean government to extradite Rauff to West Germany. Israel also sought his extradition.

But despite the international efforts to have Rauff brought to justice, Chile President August Pinochet would not act on the requests. He maintained in an interview last March that “the highest court in the land decided Rauff could stay.” While he said he regretted Rauff’s actions during the war, Pinochet said: “But that was a long time ago. I can’t do anything about it once the courts have decided.”

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