Martin Bormann is certainly very hard to kill. For nearly thirty years he has been neither proved dead nor proved alive. There is evidence of his death in Berlin on May 2, 1945—but it is the evidence of a single witness who perhaps thereby sought to protect a friend. There is also evidence that he escaped to Italy—but it is equally inconclusive. And there have been rumors—but so far they have been rumors only—of his survival in South America.

In all these years, the only solid piece of evidence to appear has been Bormann’s diary of his last weeks in Berlin. I am satisfied that this document, which was produced by the Russians, is genuine; but the circumstances of its discovery are obscure, and it is not very informative, for it ceases with the word Ausbruchsversuch—the attempted escape from the Bunker. It is possible that Bormann discarded this document in his flight to safety; but it is equally possible that it was taken from his unrecognized body. Apart from this one document, the only additional evidence comes from the mere passage of time: for the very fact that, in nearly thirty years, no evidence of Bormann’s survival has been found is itself of some force. It is easier to generate a myth about a man who is really dead than to conceal, for so long a period, and from a vigilant world, a man who is really living.

Recently two attempts have been made to solve this problem finally. First, in November, 1972, Mr. Ladislas Farago published a series of articles proving, to his own satisfaction, that Bormann was still alive in South America. Then, a few days later, the West German authorities produced a skull which they declared to be that of Bormann and which proved, to their satisfaction, that he had died in Berlin in 1945. They haughtily declined to notice Mr. Farago’s evidence of survival, and he, equally haughtily, rejected their evidence of death.

Mr. Farago’s evidence, as published in the popular press, was not very convincing. It consisted of confident assertions based on documents allegedly abstracted from Argentine government files. These documents, not being available for inspection, could not be tested and no responsible authority admitted their authenticity. In addition, Mr. Farago’s argument was damaged by an unfortunate gaffe. His articles were illustrated by an alleged photograph of Martin Bormann in conversation with an Argentine security officer, Juan José Velasco. In fact it was soon revealed that there had been (in Mr. Farago’s words) “a bona fide case of mistaken identification.” The person identified as Bormann was in fact not Bormann at all but “a highly respected Buenos Aires schoolteacher named Nicolas Siri,” who highly resented the insinuation. I am satisfied that Mr. Farago was not responsible for this mistake and indeed sought to prevent its publication. However, the episode has some significance, to which I shall return.

The evidence of the German authorities for Bormann’s death in 1945 is at first sight much stronger. The skull which they have ascribed to Bormann was allegedly dug up by a bulldozer in the course of building operations in the same area of Berlin in which the solitary witness claimed to have seen his body in 1945, and in which (we are told) his diary was afterward discovered. The skull is also alleged to be identifiable as that of Bormann by certain features, including dental fittings which, though detached from it, were allegedly discovered nearby, and which are said to correspond with a reconstruction of Bormann’s dental equipment made from memory by his dentist.

This, as far as it goes, is respectable circumstantial evidence, and Mr. Farago shows his respect for it by assuming not that it is mistaken but that it has been deliberately concocted, apparently by the resourceful journalists of Stern magazine. In other words, he suggests that a bogus skull was deliberately planted where it would mislead the experts, and that the experts were either deceived or privy to the conspiracy. This, though logically coherent, is a somewhat desperate argument which suffers from the inherent weakness of all conspiracy theories. In general, it is more likely that the evidence of our senses is true than that an ever-increasing number of persons have been in league to deceive us.

So far, therefore, I consider that the balance of evidence favors the theory that Bormann perished in Berlin in 1945; but I have been willing to suspend judgment until Mr. Farago, whose industry and resourcefulness I respect, should produce his full documentary evidence. For it is possible that the skull of Bormann in Berlin, like the photograph of Bormann in Buenos Aires, was “a bona fide case of mistaken identification”; there is an undoubted possibility that Bormann escaped from Berlin; and we know that Adolf Eichmann, Franz Stangl, Klaus Barbie, and other wanted war criminals were able to survive unnoticed in South America for many years. Mr. Farago, even if he sometimes makes mistakes, at least deserves credit for having gone, unlike other investigators, to South America and pursued his researches on the spot. Now he has produced his evidence and we can examine it critically. But first of all, let us summarize the story which he has pieced together, and which he narrates with great verve, wealth of detail, and all the dramatic resources of detective journalism.


According to Mr. Farago, Bormann escaped from Berlin in 1945 and made his way to Schleswig-Holstein, where he hoped to be accepted as a minister by the new president of the Reich, Admiral Doenitz. Doenitz, however, cold-shouldered him, and Bormann moved to Denmark, where he went to ground in the Danish royal castle of Graasten, which had been converted into a SS military hospital. There he was able to lie low for a time; but in October, 1945, he emerged and made his way through occupied Germany to northern Italy, where his wife had taken refuge, and where she died in March, 1946. In Italy, Bormann, like many other Nazi criminals, made use of the escape route so benevolently organized for them by the Catholic Church, and particularly by the notorious Bishop Alois Hudal, the rector of the Istituto Santa Maria dell’Anima in Rome. With Hudal’s aid, Bormann made his way to Argentina, sailing from Genoa in May, 1948, in the dress of a Jesuit priest and with a Vatican passport in the name of the Reverend Juan Gomez. On arrival, he was met by the leader of the Nazi colony and by a representative of Colonel Perón, then dictator of Argentina.

For Perón, we are told, was the personal protector of Bormann, as he had good reason to be. In the years 1943-1945, Bormann (we are assured) had transferred many millions of dollars worth of loot, by submarine, to Argentina; he still possessed the sole legal title to this colossal fortune; and it was in order to share it with him—indeed, in order to corner the lion’s share of it—that Perón had agreed to receive and protect him. The plan had been concerted (we are told) at a secret meeting at Rapallo in 1947 among Eva Perón, Bormann, and the Bishop of Genoa. Hence Bormann’s Vatican passport, priestly disguise, and official welcome. Once in Argentina, he discarded his Jesuit garb and became a Polish geologist, Eliezer Goldstein; but he would sometimes resume his priestly disguise and would enjoy “not only posing but also actually functioning as a Catholic priest.”

All this is very circumstantial; but before continuing the fascinating story, we may be allowed to touch on certain difficulties. First, we are informed that one “Don Martin,” positively identified as Bormann, was already in Argentina in mid-1946, and Mr. Farago censures the US authorities for ignoring this “hard intelligence,” which he himself accepts and elaborates. But if Bormann was already in Argentina in 1946, why did he go back to Europe, where there was a price on his head, in order to negotiate, in 1947, with Eva Perón (who made a special journey to Europe for the purpose) his secret entry in 1948? In 1946 Bormann’s treasure was already in Argentina; so were the Peróns; so was he. The meeting in Genoa the next year seems an unnecessary and hazardous complication. I wish that Mr. Farago had sorted it out for us.

Secondly, there is a little problem about the treasure, which allegedly paved the way for Bormann’s passage. We are told, again and again, that the strength of Bormann’s position in Argentina lay in his legal title to this treasure, three-quarters of which served to bribe Perón and one-quarter of which gave Bormann, for the next twenty-eight years, immense financial power over the Nazi colony in South America. But how, I ask myself, could Bormann’s legal title to it survive his legal existence? What was the use, to a Polish geologist, of a “power of attorney” made out, several years ago, to the now nonexistent Martin Bormann? How could Eliezer Goldstein, in 1948, “claim the spoils” which had been deposited in 1943 by Martin Bormann? Again, I wish that Mr. Farago had elucidated this little problem.

However, let us go on with the story. Once in Argentina, we are told, Bormann soon became the Führer of the Nazi colony, the head of a widespread and formidable web called La Araña, the Spider. As such, he exercised “dictatorial power,” liquidating his enemies if necessary. Protected by his own bodyguard, he moved freely from country to country, and although disliked by his fellow refugees for his parsimonious stewardship of the funds, he was irresistible owing to his great wealth and personal charisma: for he was, we are told, “a man of action,” a national leader, with “popular appeal”: “alone among the fugitives, he had a certain style and dignity—some ‘class.’ “


Some of this, I admit, comes as a surprise to me. I had never before heard Bormann described as a man of action, a leader, with dignity or “class.” Indeed, before 1945 he was generally regarded, even by fellow Nazis, as a dreadful vulgarian, an obscure bureaucrat, a burrowing office mole. Albert Speer assured me, a few years ago, that Bormann could not possibly have escaped and survived on his own: he was “too stupid”; and anyway, by 1945, he was sodden with hard liquor. Evidently Speer was mistaken, or the exhilarating air of South America worked a change; for Mr. Farago describes with admiration Bormann’s adventurous spirit, his financial wizardry, his zest for adventure and high life in the New World.

It is difficult not to share this admiration. Bormann’s energy, in these years of exile, as recorded by Mr. Farago, is staggering. Even at the age of seventy-two we find this indefatigable adventurer, who had recently been obliged to bolt from Argentina to Chile, skipping back over the frontier to satisfy his new mistress by undergoing a costly and painful course of physical and sexual rejuvenation at the hands of an Argentinian pupil of the famous Swiss regenerator Dr. Niehans.

In all his adventurous second life, the only episode which really shook Martin Bormann (we are told) was the publication, in 1972, of Mr. Farago’s remarkably accurate articles about him. The “world-wide sensation” caused by these disclosures not only drove the infamous Herr Jochen von Lang, of Stern magazine, to cook up the skull of the bogus Berlin man: it also so shocked Bormann himself that the iron-willed new Führer, who had taken the kidnaping and abduction of Adolf Eichmann in his stride, now suddenly lost all his old élan. He did not dare to revisit Buenos Aires for the second installment of Professor Ciancaglini’s rejuvenating treatment, and he allowed his colleagues to seize the initiative and quietly unwind, to their own advantage, his hitherto impregnable financial empire. Then he himself retired to a remote little convent-hospital in the wind-swept Bolivian Andes, run by Redemptorist nuns, in order—it seems—to die.

As he lay there, in “freshly laundered sheets,” with his face to the wall, a withered, deflated old man who, under the impact of these revelations, had lost the will to live and could only mumble inarticulately to himself, Bormann was surprised by one last visitor. It was (need I say?) the energetic Mr. Farago, who, after a hectic and perilous journey, violating all laws and rules of prudence, through unauthorized air space and “smugglers’ country,” arrived panting at his bedside on February 15, 1973. He was just in time to see him, though no words were exchanged. Now he can claim to be the only named and accessible person who, since May, 1945, has actually seen Martin Bormann.

Such is the romantic story of the last twenty-eight years of Bormann’s life. It leaves us panting too, with only enough breath to add a short epilogue on the nature and strength of the evidence on which it rests. As far as I can see, apart from undocumented journalists’ reports (of which, on this subject, the choice is wide and free), Mr. Farago relies on three main sources, which he regards as “absolutely conclusive.” These are, first, forty-one documents of the Argentine Security Service which “clinched the case”; second, certain choice morsels from 150 pounds of documents which were seized in Peru at the house of a Nazi mystery-man Friedrich Schwend and which provided “positive proof that Bormann was alive”; and, third, the 400 pages of Bormann’s own memoirs, which were written by him in Argentina and of which Mr. Farago has been privileged to read one-third in the original German. I will now venture a few comments on these three authoritative sources.

First of all, it is regrettable that none of these vital documents can be examined in its proper context. The Argentine secret service documents are allegedly bootlegged copies obtained individually by Mr. Farago “using methods which I had learned during my years in American intelligence organizations”—i.e., as I understand him, by bribery. In general, I venture to observe that where there is corrupt sale of any commodity, there may also be corrupt manufacture. Even if the documents are genuine, I note that most of them are secret agents’ reports. Anyone who has any experience of intelligence organizations knows that such reports can never be accepted at their face value.

But are they in fact genuine? As the files from which they were allegedly abstracted are now firmly closed, their authenticity cannot be checked. We therefore have to depend on the credit of their supplier. Happily, in this case, Mr. Farago names his supplier. He is, we are told, one of the highest-ranking and most reliable special agents in the Argentine intelligence service; in fact, none other than that same Juan José Velasco who, by “a bona fide case of mistaken identification” had himself photographed with “a highly respected Buenos Aires schoolteacher” and then passed the photograph to Mr. Farago as evidence of his own direct contact with Martin Bormann. On this I can only say that those who have been mistaken once can be mistaken twice, and I myself would hesitate, after such an experience, to trust any document supplied and authenticated by Señor Velasco.

Similarly, the Schwend documents, which are said to contain Bormann’s South American addresses and several important letters to and from him, are also unfortunately unavailable for critical inspection. They were secured (we are told) by a Peruvian lawyer, Dr. Santos, as an accidental by-product of a murder case in which he was involved as investigating magistrate. Finding that they were irrelevant to his case, Dr. Santos hoped to raise a million dollars by selling them privately to the highest bidder, and Mr. Farago thus had an opportunity to see some tempting morsels, presumably put before him as bait.

Unfortunately Dr. Santos, whose professional scruples seem to come and go somewhat arbitrarily, afterward decided that the documents, being irrelevant to his case, ought to be impounded and sealed up; so they too have disappeared. I am afraid I must add that they do not anyway seem very reliable. Mr. Farago himself tells us that Schwend (who had served Hitler in the war by manufacturing bogus English bank notes) had since “taken on the job of covering up Bormann’s trail by disseminating misleading information” about him, “planting bogus Bormanns at intervals,” and generally manufacturing false evidence in order to throw sleuths like Mr. Farago off the scent. In other words, Schwend is a professional forger of documents who has been lucky enough to find, in Dr. Santos, a willing agent, and, in Mr. Farago, a willing dupe.

Finally there are Bormann’s own memoirs, of which Mr. Farago quotes a tantalizing fragment. These, we are told, were offered to him, just before that dramatic last visit to the Redemptorist convent, by two emissaries of “unimpeachable credentials.” One of these unimpeachable authorities was Bormann’s literary agent, the “distinguished Bolivian scholar Dr. Alfonso Finot,” whom no doubt I ought to know. The other was Bormann’s Argentine attorney, who still needs the protection of anonymity. The asking price was again a million dollars. Mr. Farago, it seems, was willing to go up to half-a-million—provided he was allowed a free hand “to rewrite the whole manuscript,” adding whatever he liked from his own ample knowledge. This shows an interesting attitude toward historical evidence. But once again the terms were never made final, and this precious work, which the author, with his dying breath, was about to authenticate, has also, most unfortunately, disappeared again.

Thus, the originals having all retreated again into impenetrable secrecy, we have to take on trust all three of Mr. Farago’s “absolutely conclusive” documentary sources: the Argentine secret agents’ reports sold piecemeal to him by the bona fide blunderer Señor Velasco; the documents from Herr Schwend’s manufactory of spoof papers dangled before him (with a price tag of $1 million) by Dr. Santos; and the similarly priced memoirs so nearly, but not quite, authenticated by an inarticulate old invalid in a Bolivian hospital alleged to be Bormann himself. All these documents may of course be absolutely genuine and completely veracious. In that case, we must congratulate Mr. Farago on having at last, as he claims, solved “the mystery of Martin Bormann’s postwar fate.”

This Issue

November 14, 1974