May 8, 2007

Dutch airline KLM to probe flights for fleeing Nazis


AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch airline KLM will probably seek an independent investigation into whether it flew Nazi fugitives to Argentina after the Second World War, the national airline said on Tuesday.

Questions over KLM’s past surfaced last week after a Dutch television documentary claimed to have discovered archive documents showing the airline played an active role in helping suspected war criminals flee Germany.

KLM, now part of Air France, said it had never found any proof in its own archives about flying Nazis to Argentina but had also never denied a possible involvement.

”The checks we have done in our archive so far have not delivered any specific information about this sort of transportation. But that does not mean that it has not been done,” KLM spokesman Bart Koster said.

Adolf Eichmann, who planned the extermination of the Jews, and Josef Mengele, the doctor of the Auschwitz death camp nicknamed the ”Angel of Death” were among the large number of fugitive Nazis who were harbored by Argentina after the war.

”We take these signals seriously and if we are a responsible company, we should also be responsible for what has been done in the past,” Koster said, adding that KLM was in talks with other parties about initiating an independent inquiry.

Dutch current affairs program Network’s broadcast last week accused KLM of helping Nazis with false travel papers or without proper papers flee to Argentina via Switzerland.

The filmmakers said they had found documents in Swiss, U.S., Argentine and Dutch archives, which proved the charges.

Some Dutch historians and politicians have called for an independent inquiry and urged KLM to come clean about its past.

The KLM spokesman indicated that an inquiry should also look into the role of Dutch authorities as the airline had people like late Prince Bernhard on its board in the 1940s.

The Netherlands is still troubled by guilt over the Nazi collaboration of its authorities and deportation of all but a fraction of its Jewish population, as well as hundreds of Gypsies and homosexuals.

The Dutch national railway company apologized last year for its role in deporting thousands of Jews to Nazi concentration camps.