It is safe to assume that there are three sides to a story; yours, theirs, and the truth. However, what if the story lines are blurred and supplemented with outlandish claims that one of the world’s infamous leaders darted to Latin America to live a secret life? Intriguing right? After all, an eccentric claim like this begs to be taken as the truth. So who is this infamous leader, and why escape to Latin America? Better yet, can these claims be regarded as truth?

The scandalous runaway narrative is grounded in the growing theory that Adolf Hitler’s suicide was a cunning hoax to distract people from his flee to Argentina to live a life far from Germany. The theory is grounded in large shreds of truth, such as released government files that report the American FBI having a helping hand in Hitler’s mad dash. Staunch supporters of the Hitler in Argentina theory, claim that FBI secretly knew that Hitler and his wife Eva Braun did not commit suicide, but were alive and living a quiet life in the Andes long after World War II [1]. While this conspiracy theory does not necessarily reflect my personal views on Hitler and history, I do believe it is a topic worth exploring.

Connecting the dots on the conspiracy cork-board, supporters rely heavily on unexplained historical moments and the recent uncovered FBI files (see Figure 1.0) to help

fbi_photo
Figure 1.0 Leading document in declassified FBI files reporting sightings on Hitler in Argentina. FBI Vault.

flesh out this mysterious story. The FBI files will be explained later in the module. First, the strange landing of German boats U-530 and U-977 raised serious speculations as to who and what were actually on board. Sightings of the U-530 in Norway and Canada in 1945 led to critical questions on the submarine’s voyage to Mar de Plata- a city on the coast of Argentina [2]. As such, this strange occurrence fueled wild rumors by Argentina reporters and officials that Hitler and Braun, along with other Nazi officials, were disguised as crew members and funneled into country. Another floating rumor was that before transporting Hitler to Mar de Plata, U-530 carried selected treasures of the Third Reich and placed them in an ice cave in Antarctica [3].  Rumors, such as these, were pieced together and turned these coincidences into the more extensive conspiracy that Hitler somehow escaped Berlin, made his way onto the sub U-530 or U-977 in Norway and successfully landed on the coast of Argentina.

An additional string in the storyboard points to several sources reporting on architect Alejandro Bustillo’s involvement with designing and building Hitler’s mansion in the new country. The development was supposedly financed by wealthy German immigrants, advancing the sub-claim that there were multiple “international” hands in securing a seamless transition from Germany to Latin America [4]. Additional claims were made that Bustillo also built other houses for Nazi fugitives moving into neighboring areas across Argentina [5]. Experts, including specialists at the History channel, report that as many as 9,000 Nazi officers and collaborators escaped to South America after the war [6]. Again, some think that Hilter was among them.

Now that some of the generalities of the theory are drawn out, it is important to look at some of the supporters behind the theory. These supporters come from different backgrounds and hold a variety of motives that prompt a special kind of dedication in exposing the peculiarities that engulf the theory. One big proponent of this conspiracy theory is author Harry Cooper, who wrote the book Hitler in Argentina (see Figure 2.0).

guy-in-argentina
Figure 2.0 Book cover for Harry Cooper’s Hitler in Argentina. 

Cooper’s book aims to offer a counter-argument against Hitler’s suicide through photographs, important government documents and interviews that attempt to prove Hitler’s escape to South America. In addition to being an author, Cooper is also the founder of Sharkhunters International. Influenced by Neo-nazi ideals, Sharkhunters International is a publication that reports extensively on Third-Reich history and the Hitler in Argentina theory. Before the creation of Sharkhunters, Cooper’s inquisitive spirit and passion for history led him to quit his job and travel by boat around the world- leading him to discover a German in U-boat in the Bahamas [7]. This discovery fueled further research on German U-boat history, along with a search for an avenue to write about these findings, thus Sharkhunters was created. Over the years, Sharkhunters has shifted into a more business framework by offering memberships, access to newsletters, customer services, merchandise/memorabilia and even U-boat tours.

While Cooper’s grassroots story in becoming an author and founder of Sharkhunters is commendable, it is not void of hiccups and the content should not necessarily be taken as gospel. First, Cooper’s qualifications, such as previous education and work experience, are not disclosed, leaving readers to question his credibility on writing on this complicated topic. Second, Cooper’s blatant appeals to his colorful social circle and supporters raises contention on the carefully curated content he is publishing on the website, newsletter, and book. Cooper’s explicit stance as a Neo-Nazi can be seen as red flag to certain readers who may not identify with this political affiliation [8]. While Cooper states that his work is “nonpolitical,” his involvement with European right-wing politics and anti-Semitic views voice the contrary. His entrenched political views could have the potential to cloud his judgment in reporting objectively, leaving him to write specifically for niche audiences. The problem is that his content tends to be peppered with personal bias, thus diluting his credibility as a writer. However, Cooper’s political views and involvement are robust enough to keep him passionate and motivated to still hunt for answers and expose “truth”. This sparks the questions as to whether or not Cooper is motivated to inform or increase website traffic and merchandise sales?

Authors, Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams also report on the Hitler in Argentina theory in their book turned film Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler. Simon Dunstan is an author and filmmaker who specializes in the field of military history [9]. Gerrard Williams is a seasoned international journalist and historian who has spent years investigating Nazi movements to South America [10].

hunting-guy
Figure 3.0 History Channel series that seeks to  expose the historical anomalies concerning Hitler before and after his death. Hunting Hitler Trailer. 

Williams has worked for Reuters, BBC, and Sky News. Williams also starred as a commentator in the History channel’s eight-part series, Hunting Hitler (see Figure 3.0) that investigates the validity of Hitler’s death.  Compared to Harry Cooper, Dunstan and Williams have extensive experience in the field of journalism and history, and their professions grant them a higher level of credibility.

However, a recent plagiarism claim by Argentina journalist Abel Basti has called the author’s credibility into question [11]. Basti believes that Dunstan and Williams held onto evidence that he had been collecting for years. Additionally, there was an alleged contract between the authors and Basti that signed off the rights to how content could be used [12]. Though not completely disclosed, these rights were fueled by compensation, where an agreement was made: content in exchange for substantial payments from Williams’ company. Of course, Williams denounces these claims. This hearsay scandal not only calls credibility into question, but begs for a more critical look at the motives behind research. Publicity and prestige could be the demise of theory’s validity. If everyone is racing to pump out research and make sense of these findings, be it newsletters, books, or films, then a sense of doubt hovers over this theory. Meaning, that the idea of individuals making backdoor deals to secure glory and publicity can easily turn into a rat race where people scramble around and stitch together scraps of evidence in hopes of cementing a reality that might not even be there. But it does make for a good read and excellent TV.

So why does this theory captivate such a large audience? It’s probably because it is rooted in shreds of truth. One of the cornerstone shreds of evidence that is constantly referred to are the recently released FBI documents. Just looking at the source itself, there tends to be an appeal to authority, where an authority (FBI) reports something, and it is immediately regarded as truth [13]. To the reader’s credit, the content in the documents makes an appealing case that FBI could have turned a blind-eye in “Hitler’s escape.” The document reflects majority of the claims that are in discussed in the theory, such as submarine landings and Nazi officials funneling into the country. However, a closer look at the document shows that the FBI were notified by unidentified informant who “closely” new Hitler [14]. The unidentified characteristic of this source stirs ambiguity and shakes up the appeal to authority by begging the question: how valid is this source? Additionally, the files do not actually document that Hitler escaped but rather are loaded with claims, assertions, and “reason to believe.” In fact, Hitler’s presence in Argentina was not verified in these files.

Stumped by the logistics of the files, some supporters flee to the photographs of Hitler in Argentina to prove that he was still there.  Figure 4.0 is the common picture that floats around the internet, and is sited in conspiracy sites and books. Blurry and distorted, this image does not provide substantial evidence to Hitler’s existence in South America. Void of visual credibility, this image continues to float around and land in websites, book, etc., which is somewhat surprising. In a way, this image seems to serve as a token to hop onto the Hitler in Argentina bandwagon. The flaw here is that the constant use of this image has no bearing on its validity [15]. The image is not necessarily credible, but it is popular in this community, and that appears to be sufficient enough to incorporate in content.

blurry-photo
Figure 4.0 Common image used to dispel Hitler’s suicide and prove that he was alive and far from Germany.

It is how content is curated, situated, and propagated that determines the success of the producer’s ability to change people’s attitudes on Hitler’s suicide. While there are many, here are few propaganda techniques used to persuade people to at least entertain the thought that Hitler’s suicide could be a sham. The theory relies on a variation of agitation propaganda, where content (i.e. reports, images, videos, etc.) pushes against the status quo. While not completely calling for extreme measures like starting a revolution (sorry, Tracy Chapman), supporters of this theory are reconstructing history and asking people to push against what we have been taught to be known as true. Similarly, subtle fear appeals are used to direct people to follow this theory. FBI documents, unsettling images (i.e. Hitler in Argentina), and unidentified testimonials like Bustillo, feed into an unsettling narrative that threatens what we believe. In the fear appeal model, the message is intended to scare or cause discomfort, offer specific recommendations and instructions on how to reduce a threat, and offer an attainable course of action [16]. As such, books, films, and TV series covering this theory understand that there might be a level of discomfort with the idea living in Argentina, so they expose random substantial findings can reduce that threat, shape the way we interpret history, and make a call to action for people to join their camp.

So which side is the truth? Do we stand on the side of history? Or, do we adopt this new version- a reconstructed history? Ultimately, the freedom of choice wins at the end of the day. However, before choosing it is important to be cautious on the sources you derive information from. Each person writes with a particular set of motives and intentions. It is the glittering conglomeration of facts and evidence that can update or change the way we view a message, and ultimately leaves many readers to look over those intentions. As you unravel the strings on the conspiracy cork-board, be sure to look at the validity and continuity of pieces of evidences. Hiccups in the historical story line or content filled with personal biases (or lack of credibility) should be thoroughly considered before changing your mind about a huge topic, such as Hitler’s death.

 

 

 

[1] Redflag News Staff. FBI quietly opens secret files that attest Hitler went to Argentina rather than commit suicide. Redflag News.  Retrieved from http://www.redflagnews.com/headlines/fbi-opens-files-proving-hitler-went-to-argentina

[2] Greyfalcon blog member. The ultimate truth about Nazis fled to South America. Retrieved from http://myth.greyfalcon.us/gotter5.htm

[3] Greyfalcon blog member. The ultimate truth about Nazis fled to South America. Retrieved from http://myth.greyfalcon.us/gotter5.htm

[4] Tove. The National Library of Australia: The Mercury Newspaper (1946, June 6). New doubts whether Hitler died. Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/26197798

[5] Tove. The National Library of Australia: The Mercury Newspaper (1946, June 6). New doubts whether Hitler died. Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/26197798

 

[6] Klein, C. (2015, November 15). History. How South America became a Nazi haven. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/how-south-america-became-a-nazi-haven

[7] Southern Poverty Law Center. Harry Cooper. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/harry-cooper

[8] Southern Poverty Law Center. Harry Cooper. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/harry-cooper

[9] Simon Dunstan. Osprey Publishings. Retrieved from https://ospreypublishing.com/store/contributors/simon-dunstan

[10] Hunting Hitler Cast. History Channel. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/shows/hunting-hitler/cast/gerrard-williams

 

[11] Thorpe, V. (2013, October 26). Hitler lived until 1962? That’s my story claims Argentina writer. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/27/hitler-lived-1962-argentina-plagiarism

[12] Thorpe, V. (2013, October 26). Hitler lived until 1962? That’s my story claims Argentina writer. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/27/hitler-lived-1962-argentina-plagiarism

[13] Your logical fallacy is. Appeal to authority. Retrieved from https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/appeal-to-authority

[14] FBI Vault Records. Adolf Hitler. Retrieved from https://vault.fbi.gov/adolf-hitler/adolf-hitler-part-01-of-04/view

[15] Your logical fallacy is. Bandwagon. Retrieved from https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/bandwagon

[16] Pratkanis, A. & Aronson, E. (1991). Emotional appeals. Age of Propaganda. New York: WH Freeman and Company.

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