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Thursday, February 18, 1999 Published at 01:08 GMT

World: Europe

Nazis 'swindled' Red Cross

Auschwitz's Angel of Death Josef Mengele obtained Red Cross papers

The Red Cross has said that passports which allowed at least 10 Nazi war criminals to travel under false identities after World War II were "swindled" out of it.

The organisation made the statement in response to recent reports about its role in inadvertently aiding the escape of a number of Nazis to Argentina.

The ICRC has in the past said it provided travel papers to at least 10 Nazis, including Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele and Klaus Barbie. It said the documents were provided unknowingly.

A statement issued by the organisation from its Geneva headquarters said it had nothing to hide and was committed to dealing openly with the "painful and regrettable experiences" of the past.

[ image: SS Captain Erich Priebke: Eventually faced justice]
SS Captain Erich Priebke: Eventually faced justice
It said the infamous war criminals were among thousands of people found in refugee camps who were given Red Cross travel documents.

Applicants for passports had to supply an identity document, proof of permission to leave the country they were in and proof of permission to enter their country of destination.

The Nazi deception was uncovered after the ICRC was given a list of aliases used by Nazi war criminals. But it remains unclear exactly how many Nazis used the Red Cross as a means of escaping war crime trials.

"We are committed to dealing as openly as possible with painful and regrettable experiences from the past," Yves Sandoz, director of the ICRC's department of principles and law said.

"This is not an exact science," said Rene Kosirnick, who heads the ICRC's working group on World War II.

"All we can do is check whether we issued travel documents that correspond to the aliases we have been given. Some correspond precisely, others less so. What is certain is that we will search our files as thoroughly as possible and address the issues that arise."

False identities

Mengele, known as the Auschwitz 'Angel of Death', gave an Italian residency document with a false name and permission to enter Argentina. He received his passport in 1949.

Eichmann was abducted in 1960 from Argentina by Israeli agents. He was taken to Israel where he was tried and executed.

Barbie, a Gestapo leader in Lyon, France, was convicted of crimes against humanity in 1987.

SS captain Erich Priebke also obtained Red Cross travel documents. He was convicted in 1997 for his role in the 1944 massacre of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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