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After World War II, thousands of Nazis fled to South America along so-called ratlines — often with the help of Catholic clergy. The Vatican is now opening its archives from the time. Will it be a moment of truth?

In 1948, just three years after the end of World War II, a leading Nazi war criminal managed to escape from a prison in Linz, Austria.

Franz Stangl, a former SS-Hauptsturmführer and commander of the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps, was responsible for the deaths of almost 1 million Jews. Via Graz, Merano and Florence, he made his way to Rome and — most importantly for him — to the Vatican.
In Rome, Bishop Alois Hudal, a fellow Austrian, greeted him with the words: "You must be Franz Stangl — I've been expecting you." He then handed Stangl forged documents that allowed the Nazi war criminal to travel to Syria, where his family eventually joined him. In 1951, the Stangl family emigrated to Brazil. The man who perfected mass murder in the concentration camps spent years assembling cars at a Volkswagen plant near Sao Paulo.

Franz Stangl is one of thousands of Nazis and collaborators who, with the help of the Catholic Church, escaped Europve via routes called "ratlines" — some of which ran from Innsbruck over the Alps to Merano or Bolzano in South Tyrol, then to Rome and from there to the Italian port city of Genoa.
Stangl chose a detour via Syria, but the majority of Nazis boarded ships headed directly to South America — mainly to Argentina, the country Holocaust survivor and writer Simon Wiesenthal named the Nazis' "Cape of Last Hope." Argentina was that last country to declare war on Nazi Germany.

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