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Krunoslav Draganovic, Klaus Barbie, and the Rat Lines
By Carl Savich
February 18, 2007
Barbie was an SS Hauptsturmfuerer who in 1942 became the Gestapo chief in Lyons, France. He personally tortured French prisoners and was accused of killing 4,000 victims in France. He was responsible for the arrest and torture of Jean Moulin, one of the leaders of the French Resistance Movement. In April, 1944, Barbie ordered the deportation of 44 Jewish children to Auschwitz. The children were taken from an orphanage at Izieu in France.
In 1947, the US Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), hired Barbie to be an intelligence agent for the US. The US knew of Barbie’s alleged war crimes and his role as an SS and Gestapo officer in the Third Reich. It was because of his expertise as an intelligence officer that made him a valuable asset for US intelligence. The US knew that Krunoslav Draganovic had been a high ranking Ustasha official in the Nazi-allied NDH regime in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina. The US was aware that Draganovic and the Ustasha regime had been implicated in war crimes and genocide against Serbs, Jews, and Roma in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. The US, nevertheless, employed these Nazi and Ustasha war criminals who were accused of committing genocide against Serbs and Jews because they were of use in the emerging Cold War against the Soviet Union.
Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyons”, was a key alleged Nazi war criminal that the US helped to escape from Europe and prosecution for war crimes committed in France. Klaus Barbie escaped prosecution for war crimes by means of the infamous Rat Line, a well-funded escape route established with “official approval” by the US Army 430 Counter Intelligence Corps in Austria. It was created by Jim Milano and Paul Lyon in 1947 to assist US agents, informants, and sympathizers, referred to as “visitors” in US intelligence jargon, to flee or “relocate” from the Soviet Sector in Vienna to the US Sector in Salzburg. The agents, called “shipments”, were primarily Russian defectors and contacts who had been agents for the US in Soviet-occupied regions of Eastern Europe. Milano stated that “as a reward for services, we settled them in different parts of the world.”
Milano set up a three member group in Salzburg that would transport the agent or “body” to a secure location, the “rat house” where processing would begin. They were sent to South America, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Argentina. Milano set up a “laboratory” where his team forged and altered documentation such as passports and identity cards and papers. They had also bribed personnel in the Italian State Department. A US diplomat in Rome who was part of the International Refugee Office was also used as an insider. The finances were obtained from the intelligence fund which was supplied by the US government.
According to Milano, every Rat Line operation was carefully planned and rehearsed “to prevent any embarrassment to the American government.” Milano explained: “We would never let a Rat Line product out of our sight.” His three member team would complete the required “paperwork” and then dress the “body” in an “American uniform” which was driven in an “army jeep” to Bad Gastein where a train was taken to the Italian border. At the border, a “friendly” customs agent would allow the group to enter with a final destination of either Genoa or Naples, both port cities. From these ports, the “body” would be placed on a ship across the Atlantic.
The Rat Line “contact” in Genoa was a Bosnian-born, Croatian Ustasha handler and Roman Catholic priest Krunoslav Stjepan Draganovic. Draganovic was a Bosnian Croat born in central Bosnia in 1903, in the city of Travnik. He studied theology at Sarajevo in Bosnia and was the secretary to notorious Sarajevo Ustasha Roman Catholic priest Ivan Saric, a fanatical racist who called for the extermination of Serbs, Jews, and Roma in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. He returned to Bosnia in 1967 and where he died in 1983 in Sarajevo.
Krunoslav Draganovic was regarded as the mastermind of the US Rat Line. Milano referred to him as “the Good Father”. Brendan Murphy described how Draganovic became involved with US intelligence: “In the summer of 1947 officers of the 430th entered into negotiations with Father Krunoslav Dragonovic [sic], a Roman Catholic priest of Croatian origin based at a Rome seminary for young Croat candidates for the priesthood.... Dragonovic’s single virtue was that he offered the Americans a solution to their relocation problem.” Operations officer Paul E. Lyon wrote in a 1950 report that he had “developed several clandestine evacuation channels to the various South American countries for various types of European refugees.”
Brenda Murphy explained that Draganovic sought to help high level Ustasha officials and priests escape arrest and prosecutions for war crimes: “Dragonovic established his Ratline to help other Croats who during World War II had been involved in the ‘Independent State of Croatia,’ a puppet nation established by Hitler and Mussolini in 1941. By exploiting the existing antipathies between Yugoslavia’s Croats and the Serbian majority, the Nazis managed to install Ante Pavelic at the head of this state, whose capital was located in Zagreb. This illegitimate government slaughtered several hundred thousand Serbs and some 30,000 Jews between 1941 and its downfall in April 1945.”
The Croats who committed these atrocities and genocide fled after the war. Pavelic was helped to escape to South America with the help of Draganovic “whose escape routes were believed to still be in active use by the Croatian war criminals when the 430th contracted with the priest. The 430th obviously wished to keep its involvement with Dragonovic secret.”
According to Brendan Murphy, the “430th’s use of Dragonovic was, like the 66th’s use of Barbie, a moral compromise seen as a necessary expedient.” The ends justified the means. That was Adolf Hitler’s rationale as well for all of his alleged crimes and abuses. “Ryan suspects that in exchange for Ratline favors the CIC may also have helped Croatian war criminals escape from Europe.” In a 1948 memorandum, a CIC agent explained that “the agreement consists of simple mutual assistance, i.e., these agents assist persons of interest to Father Dragonovic to leave Germany, and, in turn, Father Dragonovic will assist these agents in obtaining the necessary visas to Argentina, South America, for persons of interest to this command.”
When the 66th CIC learned about this system it wanted to “export its greatest problem”, wanted war criminal Klaus Barbie. On December 11, 1950, Lt. John Hobbins traveled to Salzburg to meet with the 430th staff. George Neagoy of the 430th CIC in Salzburg “was responsible for supervision of the Ratline.” Neagoy was to give Barbie’s personal data to Draganovic who would establish identification documents and travel visas. Barbie used the alias “Klaus Becker”. Klaus Becker became Klaus Altmann. The Italian consulate issued Barbie a travel permit for Italy after the US government made the request. Another CIC agent, Jack Gay, accompanied Neagoy. From Salzburg they took Barbie and his family to Genoa where on March 12 they gave him over to Draganovic. Draganovic obtained a Red Cross travel permit for Barbie. Barbie was able to obtain a visa because Draganovic sponsored him. Dragonovic signed the application in support of the Red Cross documents.
It was CIC operations officer Paul E. Lyon who had initially found Draganovic during one of the earliest operations of the Rat Line in Trieste in 1947 and he “had proved to be enormously valuable for the American operation”. Draganovic had well-placed contacts with displaced persons organizations which managed and organized immigration quotas to South America. South American countries sought skilled intelligence and military officers and civilian bureaucrats and administrators for their own forces. This is where Klaus Barbie fit in well. Draganovic used his information to “brief” the Rat Line team on the “skills” each South American country desired. The US CIC team would then prepare the forged documentation to match the needed “profession” or occupation.
Draganovic had a set fee of $1,000 per person with half-price for children. There was even a VIP rate of $1,400 for expedited service. The CIC set up “friendly” hotels at the ports for their client or “shipment”: “The escort would babysit in the hotel, not letting the shipment out of sight until the ship’s departure. Then we would walk him right up to the gangplank, turn him over to somebody aboard the ship who knew that this was a special person who had to be taken care of, and that was the end of the Rat Line.”
The CIC provided their “shipment” with funds that ranged from $1,000 to $8,000. This money was for services rendered to US intelligence and to help start up a new life in their host countries. Klaus Barbie was supposed to have received $5,000 from the CIC. Barbie told Bolivian officials that he only had $850 on him.
Who made the decision to allow Barbie to “escape” to Bolivia? The CIC documents “disappeared” when the intelligence file was to be microfilmed in 1951. EUCOM, European command, the US military occupation authority in the US zone, the American army command in Heidelberg, Germany, which had overall command of CIC, gave the final approval on January 25, 1951. Jack Dobson, Milano’s successor, authorized Barbie’s “evacuation”. Milano and Dobson insisted that they would not have approved of “shipping” a former SS and Gestapo agent if they had known about his role in the Third Reich.
This denial is not very credible or plausible. Barbie was their “star asset”. George Neagoy of the CIC 430 B detachment organized the Barbie “shipment”. Barbie obtained a travel document forged by 430 CIC or “obtained under false pretenses”. Barbie was given the alias of Klaus Altmann, and, along with his children Ute and Klaus, and his wife Regine, was allowed by US forces to board an American truck which transported them to Salzburg. It was not possible to disguise themselves as American soldiers so Barbie’s US handlers put him and his family on a train to Genoa.
In Genoa, Barbie was reunited with Croatian Ustasha handler Krunoslav Draganovic in a meeting described as “a natural homecoming for Barbie.” Before the outbreak of World War II, Draganovic had been a professor at the faculty of Roman Catholic theology in Zagreb. During the Ustasha period, he was a hard-core Ustasha Nazi/fascist who strongly endorsed the genocide against the Krajina Serbs and Croatian and Bosnian Jews. Tom Bower described his wartime activities as follows: “During the war, he was one of the leading clerics who favoured the forced catholicization of Orthodox Serbs. With the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, he became a chaplain in the concentration camps to which the Serbs were sent. For those Serbs who resisted catholicization, the Ustachi [sic], who collaborated with the Germans, used methods of torture which even very few Germans practiced during the war. The domestic holocaust between the nationalities in Yugoslavia was a sideshow of which the world was largely ignorant but the casualties were staggering. Hundreds of thousands died at the behest of Catholic priests and, many have suspected, with the cognisance of the Vatican. At the end of the war Draganovic, like many other senior Ustachi leaders, disappeared into western Europe, protected by the ignorance of the Allies and their growing distrust of Tito’s government. Draganovic fled to the Vatican, was given sanctuary, and was then appointed to care for Croatian Ustachi imprisoned in Allied camps.
While in the Vatican he met Bishop Alois Hudal, the representative of the Deutsche Nationale Kirche. Hudal, like many other clerics, had sympathized with the Nazis and other fascist governments because, in his view, only they could protect the Church against Russian communism. Following the collapse of the Third Reich, Hudal personally helped hundreds of incriminated Nazis, including senior Gestapo officials from Berlin and the officers of extermination camps, to leave Europe for South America on what has become known as ‘the Vatican route’. Draganovic obtained from him the necessary introductions, firstly to the Red Cross officials who could provide an internationally accepted passport for Europeans anxious to leave the continent for a new life, and secondly to the network of consular, port and shipping officials who, for a bribe, could smooth the fugitive’s path. In his original briefing to Milano, Lyon had described Draganovic as ‘a Fascist, war criminal, etc.’ Nevertheless, the CIC still called him ‘the Good father’.”
Draganovic organized the Barbie escape. According to Barbie, Draganovic was waiting for the family at the Genoa railway station and had a photo Neagoy had given him of the family. He took them to a hotel by the harbor where Eichmann had once stayed before his “escape” as well as other prominent Nazis and Ustasha. George Neagoy of CIC went with the family to Genoa and stayed with them until their departure. Draganovic organized their departure. Barbie wanted to settle in Argentina and had a letter of introduction to the Argentine government. Draganovic convinced Barbie that Bolivia was a better place because of its oil resources. Barbie stated: “Draganovic knew a priest in Cochabamba and people on the way here also told me that it’s always spring in Cochabamba.” According to Tom Bower, “there were several matters for Draganovic to settle.” The Corrientes was the next ship leaving Genoa but it was full to capacity.
Draganovic was able to bribe a shipping clerk with a large raw ham to cancel a prior reservation. This allowed the Barbie family to find room on the ship. At the Bolivian consulate, Draganovic “arranged a cabled request to La Paz for a residence permit.” Bower emphasized the major role played by Draganovic: “As a testimony to Draganovic’s influence, the approval was granted within two days.”
Next Draganovic took them to the Argentine consulate at 38 Via Albaro where they were greeted with salutes of “Heil Hitler”. Draganovic took Barbie’s five-year-old son Klaus into the official’s office and obtained entry visas dated March 19. Finally, Draganovic took them to the International Red Cross Commission where he had contacts who immediately issued a temporary passport for the Barbie family.
What motivated Draganovic was a rabid and fanatical clerical ultra-nationalism. Draganovic combined intolerant Roman Catholicism with extreme Croatian ultra-nationalism. Draganovic perceived Communism or socialism as the antithesis to his world view, a Nazi and fascist world view. This was the common link that united Draganovic and Barbie. Bower described the relationship between Barbie and Draganovic: “During that time Barbie established a friendly relationship with Draganovic. There were trips to nightclubs and restaurants. When Barbie asked why Draganovic was helping him, the answer was gratifying. ‘[His reasons] were purely humanitarian. He helped both Catholics and Protestants, but mostly they were SS officers, about two hundred in all. Anti-communists. He said to me, ‘We’ve got to keep a sort of reserve on which we can draw in the future.” I think that was the Vatican’s motive as well.’” On March 22, the Barbie family sailed for Buenos Aires, arriving three weeks later. They went by train to Bolivia where the family settled in June, 1951.
This was how Klaus Barbie, one of the most wanted Nazi war criminals, “escaped” prosecution for war crimes. The US helped an accused Nazi war criminal escape with the assistance of a Roman Catholic Bosnian Croat priest and former high ranking Ustasha leader in the Nazi-allied NDH. This US role in helping Nazi and Ustasha war criminals escape was covered-up, suppressed, and censored by the US government. The recruitment and use of Nazi and Ustasha accused war criminals was similarly covered-up and suppressed.
This background explains why the US supported Croatia as a client state and as a surrogate or satellite during the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The origins of this relationship did not start in 1991 when Yugoslavia imploded, but go back to the early years of the Cold War when the US recruited former Nazi and Ustasha officials, accused of committing war crimes and genocide.