A Nazi hunter is a private individual who tracks down and gathers information on alleged former Nazis, SS members, and Nazi collaborators involved in the Holocaust, typically for use at trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Prominent Nazi hunters include Simon Wiesenthal, Tuviah Friedman, Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, Ian Sayer, Yaron Svoray, Elliot Welles, and Efraim Zuroff.
With the onset of the Cold War following World War II, both the Western Allies and the USSR sought out former Nazi scientists and operatives for programs such as Operation Paperclip. Cooperative former Nazis, such as Wernher von Braun and Reinhard Gehlen, were occasionally given state protection in return for valuable information or services. At the time, Gehlen had been chief of the German Bundesnachrichtendienst (federal intelligence agency), founder of the Gehlen Org and co-founder of the ODESSA network, which helped exfiltrate Nazis from Europe. Other Nazis used ratlines to escape post-war Europe to places such as Latin America.
In response, Nazi hunters sought out fugitives on their own or formed groups, such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Methods used by Nazi hunters include offering rewards for information, reviewing immigration and military records, and launching civil lawsuits.
In later decades, Nazi hunters found greater cooperation with Western and Latin American governments and the state of Israel. By the end of the 20th century, pursuit of former Nazis declined, because most of the generation active in Nazi leadership had died.
- Klaus Barbie, the "Butcher of Lyon", was extradited from Bolivia to France in 1983 after earlier attempts by Serge and Beate Klarsfeld to track him. Until the transition of Bolivia to democracy, he had been protected by the US and German intelligence services for anti-Soviet intelligence purposes and employed by the Bolivian army under an alias. Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987, he died in 1991.
- Adolf Eichmann was pursued by Wiesenthal before being captured and smuggled from Argentina in 1960 by the Israeli spy agency Mossad and tried in Israel, after which he was then executed.
- Herberts Cukurs, the "Butcher of Riga", was assassinated by Mossad agents in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1965.
- Boļeslavs Maikovskis, a Latvian Nazi collaborator, was pursued to Mineola, New York by Welles. He eventually emigrated to West Germany in 1987, where he was found unfit to stand trial due to age.
- Josef Mengele, the "Angel of Death", was sought in various South American countries by Mossad, Wiesenthal and the Klarsfelds. He evaded capture until his accidental death in Brazil in 1979; his remains were identified in 1985.
- Erich Priebke, an SS officer responsible for the mass murder of Italian civilians, was interviewed openly in Argentina in 1994 by ABC Primetime Live host Sam Donaldson. He was subsequently extradited to Italy and, in 1998, sentenced to house arrest for life.
- Eduard Roschmann was sought by Wiesenthal in Argentina. The Argentine government made plans for his extradition public in 1977, allowing him to escape to Paraguay. He apparently died the same year, but Wiesenthal was sceptical that the body was Roschmann's.
- Josef Schwammberger was traced to Argentina by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Welles. Extradited to West Germany in 1990, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1992 and died in 2004.
- Dinko Šakić was pursued to Argentina by Zuroff. Making no attempt to hide, he made several media appearances before being extradited to Croatia in 1998, where he was sentenced to 20 years and died in 2008.
- Gustav Wagner, the "Wolf", was exposed by Wiesenthal in Brazil in 1978. He was arrested, but Brazil refused to extradite him to West Germany. He apparently committed suicide in São Paulo in 1980.
- Franz Stangl, the commandant of the Sobibór and Treblinka extermination camps, was caught by Wiesenthal in São Paulo in 1967. He was extradited to Germany in 1970 and sentenced to life in prison, where he died the following year.
- List of former Nazi Party members
- Pursuit of Nazi collaborators
- Ratlines (World War II)
- Remember (2015 film)
- The German Doctor (2013 film)
- "Simon Wiesenthal: Nazi hunter". BBC News. 28 December 1999.
- Wiesenthal Center Urges Australian Authorities to Expedite Extradition Proceedings Against Holocaust Perpetrator
- David Crossland (14 January 2008). "Nazi Hunters More Than Double Reward to $25,000". Spiegel Online International. Retrieved 26 May 2011.
- Jason Cato (15 April 2007). "The Nazi hunt continues for ex-guards". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
- Zuroff, Efraim (April 2013). "Simon Wiesenthal Center 2013 Annual Report on the Status of Nazi War Criminal" (PDF). Simon Wiesenthal Center.