According to Mark Aarons and John Loftus in their groundbreaking Unholy Trinity, “ratline” is a nautical term referring to “the rope ladder reaching to the top of the mast, the last place of safety when the ship is going down.” The use of this term for the myriad operations and networks which carried out the rescue of some of the worst mass murderers in European history – including Klaus Barbie, Walter Rauff and nearly the entire leadership of the Ustasha – could not be more appropriate. Following the collapse of the Independent State of Croatia in May of 1945, the leadership of the Ustasha fled for the Austrian border. The Croatian refugees they fled with were handed back to the Yugoslav government, but an incredible number of the Ustasha ringleaders managed to escape. Ante Pavelic remained in Austria for a short while before proceeding to Rome. There he and several of his underlings concealed themselves on Vatican property while former Ustasha officer and priest Fr. Krunoslav Draganovic masterminded their escape to South America. Agent William Gowen of the CIC was assigned to the case, conducted surveillance of Pavelic’s Vatican refuge and was prepared to make an arrest when his superiors intervened. Draganovic had been contacted at the same time and offered a quid pro quo by American agents stationed in Austria to smuggle their own assets – among them Gestapo Chief of Lyon Klaus Barbie – in return for their assistance to “persons of interest” to him. Pavelic remained in Rome for more than a year before departing for Buenos Aires, where he joined a dozen other officials from the Independent State of Croatia and began the resurrection of the Ustasha movement in exile.
The following citation is from the document that was declassified in the aftermath of the Klaus Barbie scandal. It appears to have originated – like nearly all other documentation from the US government uncovered 12th September 1983 – from the US Army’s Counter-Intelligence Corps:
“Dr. DRAGANOVIC’ has close contacts in Austrian political circles, especially with the Catholic clergy and with men of the ex-chancellor Dr. SCHUSCHNIG.
Dr. SCHUSCHNIG lives with his family in the monastery of Dr. DRAGANOVIC’ at Bergo Santo Spirito (in extraterritorial territory). Three days ago, Dr. SCHUSCHNIG left for Austria under a false name. He carries with him a letter from Dr. DRAGANOVIC’ which he has to deliver to the Croat Archbishop Dr. SARIC for a high ranking Ustasha official and ex-councillor of PAVELIC, IVANKOVIC.
Through the bishop STEINBACH in Salsburg and British chaplain, Capt. Dr. HAMAN, Dr. DRAGANOVIC received every information and Dr. HAMAN and the secretary of Bishop STEINBACH use him as courier between Austria and Italy. Dr. DRAGANOVIC has contacts with Ustasha Headquarters in Austria and receives instructions and directives for political activity in Italy.
Where Dr. PAVELIC Ante is hidden in Italy is known to ex-minister Dr. FARKOVIC’, Mate, Dr. DRAGANOVIC’ and priest WURSTER (WURSTER is now in Madrid, Spain, but according to reliable information, he comes to Rome from time to time in a plane with members of the Spanish Embassy).
WURSTER has left hidden in “castelo dei angeli” (castel of the angels: reference probably made to Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome), a receiving and transmitting radio set with sufficiently powerful emissions. The courier of PAVELIC’, Ustasha Captain KRILIC works as his private secretary in the office of Dr. DRAGANOVIC. KRILIC also works for the information services of DRAGANOVIC’. Recently, DRAGANOVIC was entrusted with the task of sending to Yugoslavia, via Austria, clandestinely of course, small groups of 3 persons (TROJKE) to carry out acts of sabotage. For this purpose has arrived from Austria a certain VRBAN (or URBAN) Drago, who will act as guide for the crosssing of the Italo-Austrian border. Last year when PAVELIC was in Florence, DRAGANOVIC knew this and was together with PAVELIC. Information is available to the effect that Dr. STAMBUK (intimate collaborator of Dr. DRAGANOVIC) has received from the FSS in Rome SOPREK, copies of reports which mention the activity of Yugoslav emigration in Italy (Rome) and that these reports have come into the hands of Dr. DRAGANOVIC. Dr. DUGONJIC Zvonko who was recently arrested by the FSS in Rome, during an interrogation, stole from Major SIMCOCK, a document which he later passed to Dr. DRAGANOVIC.
War criminals wanted by the British Authorities were hidden by DRAGANOVIC and later many were sent to South America. Thus DRAGANOVIC hid in Borgo S. Spirito 4, General PECNIKAR Vilko, in Via Concilla 15 KVATERNIK Eugen and in a monastery near the Colosseum, Minister FAKOVIC Mate. All the documents from which it can be seen that Dr. DRAGANOVIC helped war criminals are ready. In other reports, the activity and contacts of Dr. DRAGANOVIC will be mentioned. “