BRUSSELS — Top Nazi Martin Bormann, who German authorities say died in 1945, escaped Berlin and lived in Latin America disguised as a priest, a former Belgian collaborator said in an interview published Saturday.
Paul van Aerschodt, 88, who was sentenced to death in Belgium in 1946 but broke out of prison before his execution and now lives in Spain, told the Derniere Heure newspaper he had met Bormann four times in La Paz, Bolivia, around 1960.
“Bormann had come from Paraguay and was plotting with some 20 officers a coup to overthrow (dictator Juan) Peron in Argentina,” van Aerschodt said.
He claimed Bormann, who called himself Augustin von Lembach, passed himself off as a priest and celebrated masses, weddings and funerals and administered the last rites to the dying.
“But he remained a fanatic,” van Aerschodt said, adding that he had made the choice not to give Bormann away but did not know what became of him.
He said Bormann had found refuge in Bolivia in 1947 after another priest helped him to obtain a visa.
Van Aerschodt said Bormann had visited a restaurant the Belgian ran in La Paz, as had former Lyon Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, who was extradited to France in 1983 for trial and jailed.
Bormann, who was Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s private secretary and one of the most powerful figures in the Third Reich, left Hitler’s bunker as Russian forces approached.
He reportedly died not far away, but was tried at Nuremberg in his absence and sentenced to death, while Nazi-hunters continued to look for him, particularly in Latin America.
However remains found in Berlin in 1972 were identified as Bormann’s and he was officially declared dead by German authorities.
The identification was confirmed by DNA in 1998 but some skeptics believe the remains had been brought from elsewhere to be reburied in Berlin.
Van Aerschodt escaped from a Belgian prison in 1945 and fled to Spain where he was detained for a while but was helped by a priest to reach Bolivia and lived there till 1964.
He returned to Spain and worked for the United Nations for several years. He now lives in San Sebastian under the name of Pablo Simons and frequently visits Belgium, where his death sentence was invalidated in 1976 when Brussels abandoned the penalty.