It is safe to assume that there are three sides to a story; yours, theirs, and the truth. However, what if the storylines 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 away from Germany. The theory is grounded in large shreds of truth, like 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, like Redflag News, 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]. Redflag News, an independent aggregation newswire, have supported this theory through their extensive articles that aim to provide “helpful” insights as to why and how Hitler escaped to Argentina in their Conspiracy section. While this conspiracy theory does not necessarily reflect my personal views on Hitler and history, I do believe it is a topic worth exploring. The purpose of this module is to expose these shreds of truth and critically evaluate the claims that many supporters believe to be true. As such, the critical exploration of the theory provides touchstones for readers to use when developing their own judgments on media messages and coverage. In an effort to not let these claims to go unchecked, the module aims to ask critical questions, such as: Who’s making these claims? And, what their motivation(s) might be?

Connecting the dots on the conspiracy corkboard, supporters rely heavily on unexplained historical moments and the recent uncovered FBI files (see Figure 1) to help flesh out this mysterious story. First, the strange landing of German submarines U-530 and U-977 raised serious speculations as to who and what were actually on board. According to the conspiracy blog Black Sun Redux, 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.

fbi_photo
Figure 1. Leading document in declassified FBI files reporting sightings on Hitler in Argentina. FBI Vault. Quotes from document: “[blank] reports contact with [blank]. Claims to have aided six top Argentina officials in hiding Adolf Hitler upon his landing by submarine in Argentina.”; “According to [blank] he was one of four men who met Hitler and his party when they landed from two submarines in Argentina approximately two and half weeks after the fall of Berlin.”; “Information obtained by [blank] from [blank] unable to be verified..”
Black Sun Redux also believes 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. Similar to many other conspiracy theorist, bloggers at Black Sun Redux believe 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, including The Mercury newspaper, that report on architect Alejandro Bustillo’s involvement with designing and building Hitler’s mansion in the new country. According to a 1946 article in Australian newspaper The Mercury, 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]. The Mercury also made additional claims 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].

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). 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. Sharkhunters has shifted into a more business framework by offering memberships, access to newsletters, customer services, merchandise/memorabilia and even U-boat tours.

guy-in-argentina
Figure 2. According to the jacket notes for Harry Cooper’s Hitler In Argentina: The Documented Truth of Hitler’s Escape from Berlin, “this book will change the history you were taught in 5th grade.”

While Cooper’s grassroots story in becoming an author and founder of Sharkhunters is initially noteworthy, it is not void of hiccups and the produced 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 with 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.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an advocate for social justice and fighting hate and bigotry, writes on Cooper in their “Extremist Files.” These files contain profiles on various extremists and radical groups (i.e. alternative right movements), and provide a critical analysis on the ideologies that extremist ground themselves in. SPLC mentions that Cooper’s explicit stance as a Neo-nazi can be seen as redflag to certain readers who may not identify with this political affiliation [8]. While Cooper states that his work is “nonpolitical,” his involvement with 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”. Motivation may not be the only even if it might be to increase website traffic or increase merchandise sales. Or maybe even both?

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]. Williams has worked for Reuters, BBC, and Sky News. Williams also starred as a commentator in the History channels eight-part series, Hunting Hitler that investigates the validity of Hitler’s death (Figure 3).

hunting-guy
Figure 3. History Channel’s ground breaking series, Hunting Hitlerexposes the historical anomalies concerning Hitler before and after his “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, Guardian reporter Vanessa Thorpe reports on how a recent plagiarism claim by Argentina journalist Abel Basti has called into question the authors’ credibility [11]. Basti believes that Dunstan and Williams held onto evidence that he had been collecting for years. Additionally, Thorpe mentions an alleged contract between the authors and Basti that signed off the rights to how content could be used [12]. Thorpe does not provide details as to who drafted the alleged contract, which only makes the validity of the situation a little more opaque. 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 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. To better understand what an appeal to authority looks like, the site Your Logical Fallacy Is provides a working definition.  According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, fallacies are errors in reasoning that undermine the logic of an argument. [13] So, the logical fallacy “appeal to authority” is believing something to be true because the claim is coming from an authority figure. As such, the FBI’s established credibility as a government entity reinforces their authority. Generally, if the FBI reports something it is immediately regarded as truth. However, Your Logical Fallacy Is reminds us that “the authority that a person or authority holds does not have an intrinsic bearing upon whether their claims or true or not.”[14]

To the writer’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 county. However, a closer look at the document shows that the FBI were notified by unidentified informant who “closely” new Hitler [15]. 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.” The fact is that 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 of his existence there.

blurry-photo
Figure 4. Alleged photo of Hitler in Argentina that has been recycled by numerous websites. Image comes from Sean Adl-Tabatabai’s article, Hitler didn’t die, fled to Argentina- stunning admission

Figure 4 is the common picture that floats around the internet, and is sourced 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. In a way, this image serves as a token to hop onto the Hitler in Argentina bandwagon. Your Logical Fallacy Is defines the bandwagon fallacy as an appeal to popularity to reaffirm the status quo and preexisting beliefs. [16] The argument then is that since that the photo is used on a variety of sites reporting this conspiracy theory, it is credible and therefore should be incorporated.  The flaw here is that the constant use of this image has no bearing on its validity [17]. The image is not necessarily credible, but it is popular in this community, and that appears to be sufficient enough to incorporate in content.

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. It is important to understand that there are four main categories of propaganda: agitation propaganda, integration propaganda, vertical propaganda, and horizontal propaganda. Majority of the people reporting on the Hitler in Argentina rely on agitation propaganda, or at least a variation of it.  According to philosopher and sociologist Jacques Ellul, agitation propaganda is where content (i.e. reports, images, videos, etc.) pushes against the status quo by integrating the individual into a new frame of reference (pg.11). While not completely calling for extreme measures like sparking a revolution (or talking about one, Tracy Chapman), supporters, like Redflag News and Cooper, are reconstructing history and asking people to push against what we have been taught to be known as true and adopt a new frame of reference.

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.

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Figure 5. Cover art for Ptatankis and Aronson’s book  Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion. 

Psychologists Anothony Pratankis and Elliot Aronson write about the role of fear appeals in propaganda in their book Age of Propaganda (Figure 5). In the fear appeal model, Pratankis and Aronson mention that the message is intended to scare or cause discomfort, offer a specific recommendations and instructions on how to reduce a threat, and offer an attainable course of action (Pratankis and Aronson, pg. 162-165) [18].  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 substantial findings that reduce that threat 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 Channel. 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] History Channel. (2016) Hunting Hitler cast. 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] Brizee, A. & Weber, R. (2013). Logical fallacies. Purdue online writing lab. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/659/03/

[14] Richardson, J., Smith, A. & Meaden, S. (2016). Your Logical fallacy is. Appeal to authority. Retrieved from https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/appeal-to-authority

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

[16] Richardson, J., Smith, A. & Meaden, S. (2016). Your logical fallacy is. Bandwagon. Retrieved from https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/bandwagon

[17] Richardson, J., Smith, A. & Meaden, S. (2016). Your logical fallacy is. Bandwagon. Retrieved from https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/bandwagon

[18] Pratkanis, A. & Aronson, E. (1991). Emotional appeals. Age of Propaganda. New York: WH Freeman and Company. 162-165.

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