In times of absolute terror, the rules of war that regulate the conduct and prerequisites of the opposing forces are often forgotten. The violations of these principles can range from murdering prisoners and or civilians to raping, torturing, or experimenting on them. In today’s list, we look at the influential figures – often historic – whose horrific crimes against humanity frequently resulted in their deaths. That is if they didn’t disappear or commit suicide first…
Though some of their names may be unfamiliar, their actions will forever resonate in history. Despite the millions of victims, we omit Stalin and Hitler because their genocides should not be qualified as war crimes. The following men and women are not to be glorified, looked up to, or admired; therefore, this list appears in no particular order.
Here are the 25 Most Notorious War Criminals and Their Crimes.
The mastermind behind the Holocaust, Heinrich Himmler, is widely considered to be the worst mass murderer in history, aside from Stalin. If not for this man, the Holocaust might never have occurred. He attempted to create a master race – and believed they should have more or less strong Nordic characteristics – his Aryan race. However, in making rash military decisions rather than allowing his generals to make them, Hitler’s racial purity plans were thwarted by his vanity, ending the war prematurely. Himmler was apprehended after the war. He attempted (unsuccessfully) to negotiate with the West and was genuinely shocked when he was treated as a criminal upon his capture instead. For his final cowardly act, Himmler committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule.
When Jozef Tiso became President of the First Slovak Republic in October 1939, he immediately appointed Vojtech Tuka as Prime Minister. Tuka, a lawyer, writer, and fascist politician, rose to prominence early on by introducing comprehensive domestic anti-Semitic legislation. However, his favorite delight was supervising the wholesale deportation of Slovak Jews to concentration camps. Tuka’s health deteriorated drastically as the years went by. After having a stroke late in the war, Tuka moved to Austria, where he was arrested and promptly transported back to Slovakia. Tuka would suffer three further strokes, resulting in partial paralysis, during his trial under the postwar Czechoslovakian government. Despite suffering from a variety of serious medical conditions, Tuka was shown no mercy, and rightly so. On August 20, 1946, the 66-year-old war criminal was wheeled to the gallows in his chair and died by hanging.
Taha Yassin Ramadan
In 2002, while the United States and Iraq were preparing for war, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan had an unusual idea. He suggested President George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein settle their disputes through a duel… And believed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan would be the perfect referee. Bush was not impressed and declined the kind offer.
Ramadan was apprehended by American forces two years later and convicted of crimes against humanity for his role in defeating a Muslim uprising in southern Iraq after the Gulf War and his involvement in the murders of tens of thousands of Kurds in 1988. He was subsequently condemned to life in prison in November 2006, but the prosecutor considered the penalty as too lenient. Days later, the Appellate Chamber directed the Trial Chamber to re-sentence Ramadan, leading to his hanging on March 20, 2007.
Lord Haw-Haw/William Joyce was an American-born fascist living in Germany in 1939 when he became one of the most famous broadcasters of WWII. His talent for public speaking gained the interest of Joseph Goebbels, who hired Joyce for his own radio show to have a foreign fascist evangelize Nazi propaganda to Allied countries. By 1940, Joyce had six million regular listeners (and an additional eighteen million occasional listeners) tuning in to his broadcasts to foster distrust in the British people toward their government.
By the spring of 1940, Joyce’s rhetoric had become progressively dire, threatening Britain with invasion while urging Britain to surrender. Lord Haw-Haw’s broadcasting career ended in May 1945 when he was apprehended by British forces and taken to England to stand trial. He was found guilty of high treason and hung on January 3, 1945, in Wandsworth Prison, making him the last person executed in the United Kingdom for high treason.
Bosco Ntaganda is one of the most dangerous men that has ever lived. During his 20-year tenure as a rebel soldier, he led a massive campaign of rape, widespread murder, and horrific slaughter that destroyed entire villages and massacred their residents. He also used child soldiers to do his bidding – but would keep them drugged up to ensure their complacency. He lived openly near the Rwandan border for over a decade, evading international warrants for his arrest and all attempts to capture him.
Then, in March 2019, he appeared to have had enough. This notorious war criminal, gangster, and untouchable mass killer strolled into the US embassy and kindly requested that he be arrested and sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC). What made him do it? Nobody knows for sure. All we know is that his 30-year jail sentence is too short and will never make up for the atrocities he committed.
Carmen Mory was born in Switzerland and migrated to Berlin in 1933, where she became a Gestapo agent. Mory was captured in France in 1940 after a botched assassination attempt on a newspaper editor. Mory was initially sentenced to death but was pardoned on the condition that she spy for the French. The Gestapo soon became suspicious and arrested her for being a double agent. She was transferred to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, where she was chosen to be a Blockova (a prisoner in command of their block) and quickly embarked on a cruel life of torture and murder.
Besides daily beatings and administering deadly injections, Mory’s favorite pleasure was dousing prisoners with buckets of ice water in the “lunatic room.” She was liberated from Ravensbrück after the war, only to be re-arrested by Allied authorities after they learned of her horrific crimes. Mory was found guilty of torture and murder and condemned to death, but she avoided the hangman by killing herself with a razor on April 9, 1947, just a week before her intended execution.
Kabuga is the monster behind the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which government forces and Hutu militias butchered half a million people. The chairman and co-founder of the FDN or Fonds de Dfense Nationale, Kabuga, employed his organization to supply machetes and other weapons to the government forces during their horrific murder spree. Being a generous man, he also contributed financially to Rwanda’s radio station, which used the airwaves to incite violence and hatred towards the Tutsi population. Even after the genocide, Kabuga continued to support the violent Hutu militias and extended his support to the Congo-based Interahamwe militiamen.
He was arrested in Paris in 2020 after two decades on the run. According to the UN, the Rwandan genocide claimed more than 800,000 lives, mostly Tutsis. If you haven’t watched Hotel Rwanda, we highly recommend it – it provides a small picture of the terrible deeds that took place during the 100 days of terror.
One of our time’s most significant war crimes convictions took place in Germany in January 2022. Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian intelligence official, received a lifelong prison sentence for the atrocities he committed during the Syrian civil war.
Funnily enough, Raslan thought he would find refuge in Germany after fleeing Syria. But justice was served due to a legal principle known as “universal jurisdiction.” Essentially, it allows for the prosecution of crimes in a country in which the crimes were not committed. The court heard accounts from survivors and witnesses of hellish experiences at Raslan’s detention center. They testified how prisoners were beaten with cables and metal pipes, crammed into crowded cells, raped, tortured and murdered.
Heim, also known as Dr. Death and the Butcher of Mauthausen, performed some rather nasty experiments on his concentration camp captives, including removing organs without anesthetic to determine how much pain his victims could bear. At Mauthausen, he was reported to have preferred injecting victims’ hearts with gasoline, water, or poison, and when he got “bored,” he would time victims’ deaths with a stopwatch. Heim was captured by the US military in 1946 and detained for only two years before being freed without charge. He went on to work as a physician in Germany until 1962 when rumors of an impending prosecution forced him to flee to South America.
He reportedly died in Cairo in 1992 under an assumed identity, but many believe he continued to evade justice. Heim’s body was never found, but his lawyer and son apparently provided evidence of his death.
Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti
Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti was Saddam Hussein’s half-brother and the head of the secret police. Not a nice man, he participated in cruel and oppressive acts against the Barzani tribe in 1983 and used systematic methods of torture, including rape, to suppress and remove ethnic and religious minorities. He was also notorious for his ferocity and violence in cleansing the Iraqi military of disloyal members. He was sentenced to death by gallows in the early morning hours of January 15, 2007. A serious miscalculation by the hangman led to a surreal scene when the trapdoor opened – and separated Ibrahim’s head from his body.
As a result, the Maliki regime was shaken, with Sunni Arab followers saying that Ibrahim had been decapitated on purpose as an act of vengeance and insult to the Sunni Muslim world. However, not everyone was upset with the mishandled hanging. According to one Iraqi staff member, many residents across the country believed the tragedy was God’s punishment for Ibrahim’s crimes and that he received what he so willingly handed out.
Alfried Krupp was the child of steel magnate Gustav Krupp. During World War II, Alfried oversaw the Krupp factory, which supplied the German troops with tanks, guns, and munitions. In 1943, he was named chief of the Mining and Armaments Department. Krupp was a callous slave driver who initiated the request to the SS for slave labor. He aggressively collaborated with the SS to obtain labor from Auschwitz. Approximately 100,000 slave workers from concentration camps worked at his factories, with approximately 70% dying due to poor working conditions and violent treatment by SS guards.
Krupp was tried in an American court in 1948. He was condemned to 12 years in prison and stripped of his assets. However, High Commissioner John J. McCloy pardoned him and returned his possessions in 1951. In 1953, Alfried returned to the helm of the company, restoring it to its previous glory. He died in 1967, the last member of the Krupp family to lead the company.
Ratko Mladić was the army chief of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and a key participant in what he called the “ethnic cleansing” of Croats and Muslims from the region. The fact is he extinguished the lives of thousands of Bosnians, the majority of whom died as a result of fires, torture, rapes, and even public beheadings. In 1995, he was charged with genocide by the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague (Netherlands).
Mladić was a slippery fellow and managed to avoid capture and remained a fugitive for almost sixteen years. In 2011, his luck finally ran out and he was found hiding in one of his family’s houses and arrested. He was sent to The Hague, where he received a life sentence for his involvement in the crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes committed during the Bosnian conflict.
Irma Grese’s name will forever be associated with evil, having been one of WWII’s most vicious Nazi guards. Grese, dubbed “the Hyena of Auschwitz,” quickly rose to the level of senior SS supervisor, where she unloaded her lethal viciousness on prisoners. Grese had an especially sadistic penchant for hitting women on their breasts and would kick prisoners with her hobnailed jackboots and have her dog mercilessly maul the sick and defenseless. Grese deliberately chose the beautiful female inmates for the gas chamber out of jealousy and spite. She even went so far as to rape countless prisoners and kept three dead prisoners’ skin lampshades as her personal trophies.
Grese was apprehended by the British in the spring of 1945 and charged with several war crimes, all of which she denied. She was found guilty and sentenced to death based on the testimonies of her surviving victims and witnesses. She was the youngest woman ever to be hanged under British Law on December 13, 1945. She was 22.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was the first incumbent head of state to be charged with war crimes in 1999. He would not stand trial in The Hague until 2002, long after his regime had ended. Milosevic was involved in some of Europe’s worst atrocities since World War II. The horrors had occurred during conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Croatia, and there was so much evidence to be presented that it took the prosecution two years just to make its case in court. Lawyers contended that Milosevic was responsible for the sweeping ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs and brutal mass murders. This included the tragic Srebrenica massacre in July 1995, in which Bosnian Serb forces massacred over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.
Milosevic, a lawyer, argued his own case. He branded the proceedings a farce and stated that he should be “credited for peace… not war.” Unfortunately, the epic courtroom spectacle did not culminate in the delivery of justice. Milosevic was found dead in his cell in 2006, just months before his verdict was due; his long-running heart condition had finally caught up with him.
Evil takes on many forms, and Joseph Kony‘s actions can only be described as truly appalling. In 1987, Kony established the LRA rebel group in northern Uganda. Following their expulsion from Uganda by the Ugandan military, LRA fighters sought refuge in neighboring politically unstable regions, including southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic, adopting the name “Tongo-Tongo.” Their notoriety stemmed from the abduction of children, who were forcibly recruited into their armed activities. Additionally, the group subjected girls to sexual slavery and abuse.
According to UN data, the LRA is directly responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 people in central Africa. They have also kidnapped between 60,000 and 100,000 children and displaced millions of Ugandans. In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Kony, forcing him into hiding. Former child soldiers have reported that he is still alive and concealed in Darfur.
Friedrich Flick was a prominent German industrialist. By the 1930s, he had become the director of United Steelworks, Germany’s largest steel company. A big supporter of the Nazi Party, he donated seven million marks and additionally supplied 10,000 marks a year to the SS. During WWII, Flick made a fortune by employing SS slave labor. As a result of his severe treatment, 80% of his 48,000 slaves died (that’s 38, 400 people).
Flick was convicted in Nuremberg before an American court and sentenced to only seven years. High Commissioner John J. McCloy wanted to revive German steel manufacturing and released him (just like Alfried Krupp) in 1951. Flick was later reported to be Germany’s wealthiest man and the world’s sixth wealthiest man. He died in 1972, never having paid a dime to the families of the slaves who died, so he might be filthy rich.
Radovan Karadžić, a former Bosnian Serb politician, was found guilty of war crimes, including crimes against humanity as well as genocide, during the Bosnian war in 2016. From 1996 through 2008, while on the run, he disguised himself as a new-age expert in alternative health care, offering treatment for sexual disorders and ailments. He presented lectures in front of thousands of people while hiding in plain sight and even started his own website. Despite seemingly evading arrest in Austria by posing as a Croatian healer selling ointments, the doctor was apprehended in Belgrade in 2008, when police established his true identity. He will remain in prison for the rest of his life.
Eichmann was the organizational genius behind the coordinated deportation of Jews from their home countries into designated ghettos and death camps. He is frequently referred to as “the architect of the Holocaust” because he was a prodigy of Reinhard Heydrich – one of the worst figures in history. He learned Hebrew and studied everything Jewish in order to coerce Jews to abandon their captured lands and assets in favor of a better life in the ghettos. After the war, he was doing the same to Hungarian Jews, and if it hadn’t been for Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg’s rescue efforts, the number of Holocaust victims would have been much higher.
At the end of the war, he fled Germany via a ratline to South America, where he was later apprehended by the Mossad in Argentina. After a highly publicized trial, he was deported to Israel and killed by hanging in 1962.
Omar Hassan al-Bashir
Omar al-Bashir, a brigadier general who seized power in a military coup in 1989, ruled Sudan for 30 years. On April 11, 2019, Bashir was deposed in a military coup and arrested. He was convicted of corruption-related charges in December 2019 and sentenced to 2 years in a “reform center” instead of prison due to his advanced age. Meanwhile, he was charged with inciting and complicity in the murders of demonstrators earlier in that year amid rallies against his leadership. He was also charged with three distinct and separate genocide charges and for his involvement in the 1989 coup that brought him to office; his trial began in July 2020, and he was sent to prison.
Between 300,000 and 400,000 people died in the Darfur conflict in 2003; many were tortured by Sudanese government militias, raped, and decapitated. Over 4 million people were forced to flee their homes.
Paul Touvier, dubbed the “Hangman of Lyon,” was the only Frenchman to be charged with war crimes for his role in World War II. Faced with the prospect of death, Touvier fled and lived as a fugitive for many years, surviving by peddling bootleg chocolate to confectionary stores until the statute of limitations on his terrible crimes expired and France’s President Georges Pompidou pardoned him.
However, after being discovered collecting stolen Jewish property that he had claimed as his own, he was again charged with crimes against humanity in 1971. Following information that he was being protected at a priory, French Colonel Jean-Louis Recordon and his squad wiretapped Catholic groups and sympathizers. He was discovered hiding in a monastery dressed as a priest in 1989. Paul Touvier was convicted for his involvement in crimes against humanity on April 20, 1994, in Versailles, France, for his role in the Holocaust. Touvier died in prison in 1996, aged 81.
Ali Hassan al-Majid
Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as “Chemical Ali,” shared similarities with Heinrich Himmler. He frequently ordered lethal gas attacks on hundreds of thousands of innocent people and showed no remorse for the resulting deaths. Serving as a military commander under Saddam Hussein (who was also his cousin), he surpassed the Iraqi dictator in cruelty and brutality. After the invasion of Iraq, U.S. soldiers arrested him, leading to his 2006 trial in Baghdad for crimes against humanity and genocide.
Al-Majid received a death sentence by hanging upon conviction. Subsequently, he faced additional death sentences, including one for the horrifying gas attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja, which claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 people. The details of the suffering endured by his victims are too distressing to describe, but witnesses vividly recounted the graphic horrors, including entire families perishing in the streets. “Chemical Ali” met his end by hanging in January 2010.
The former Liberian president Charles Taylor was named one of the world’s worst war criminals for his role in the Sierra Leone civil war. Taylor exploited Liberia’s tribal differences and presided over a gruesomely brutal civil war that lasted seven years and killed up to two hundred thousand civilians. Many died as a result of Taylor’s army of child soldiers. Terror, rape, and murder were among the charges leveled against him. He fled to Nigeria after being indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Taylor was placed on Interpol’s Most Wanted list after evading capture for three years, and the United States Congress even enacted a measure providing a $2 million reward for his capture and arrest. Finally, in 2006, Nigeria announced arrangements to turn him over to the Liberian government. Authorities apprehended him as he tried to travel across the border from Nigeria in a Range Rover with Nigerian diplomatic plates, loaded with enormous sums of cash and heroin. He is currently serving his 50-year sentence in prison.
Kurt Blome was a scientist who oversaw and participated in experiments against thousands of POWs as the Nazi biological warfare program director. To evaluate the efficiency of prospective vaccinations, he afflicted his victims with plague, anthrax, typhoid, and cholera. He also tested chemical aerosols’ impact on captives at Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Blome also collaborated directly with Japanese scientists in Unit 731 on chemical and biological warfare research.
Following WWII, Blome was recruited by the Americans to help with their biological and chemical warfare program. Blome was arrested by the US Army in May 1945 and accused but acquitted in Nuremberg due to US machinations under Operation Paperclip. He stayed in West Germany, where he was employed by the US, and died of natural causes in 1969.
Mengele rose to prominence as one of the SS physicians who oversaw the selection of arriving transports of prisoners, selecting who would be executed and who would be forced laborers. Mengele was dubbed the “Angel of Death” for carrying out gruesome human experiments on camp inmates. His crimes were incredibly evil, and there were so, so, many.
When it was discovered that one of the hospital blocks was infected with lice, Mengele gassed all 750 women assigned to it. Mengele used his time at Auschwitz to further his studies into heredity, conducting human experiments on prisoners. He was especially fascinated by identical twins. Mengele’s experiments included attempting to change their eye color by injecting chemicals into children’s eyes, numerous limb amputations, and other cruel surgeries. He survived the war and escaped to South America, where he evaded capture for the remainder of his life despite being wanted as a Nazi war criminal.
Everyone alive today recognizes the name Saddam Hussein – even if we are familiar with the atrocities his rule brought about in Iraq. Saddam’s name means “he who confronts,” and that was what the man did. Saddam’s career had many ups and downs, and he was exiled, arrested, and jailed before eventually making it to the top. First as Vice president in 1968, and finally becoming president in July 1979. He ruled Iraq with an iron fist and, like any true dictator, relied on fear and terror to preserve power. He did not believe in second chances. Saddam Hussein’s monstrous regime killed at least 250,000 Iraqis and hundreds of thousands more in Kuwait, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
Saddam brought about his own demise when, in 1990, he ordered his Iraqi forces to invade Kuwait – triggering the Persian Gulf War. In March 2003, the US attacked Iraq. Saddam escaped Baghdad during the battle but was discovered hiding in a tunnel near Tikrit. Saddam Hussein was convicted and sentenced to death for his crimes. He died by hanging on December 30, 2006.