The Amsterdam underworld knew Dries Riphagen as the Dutch Al Capone, a violent crime boss ready and willing to end your life to make a buck. But when the second World War ravaged through Europe, Riphagen rebranded himself as one of the Netherlands’ biggest Jew hunters when he partnered with the invading Nazis. Befitting the hustler that he was, he got away with it all, dying decades after the war ended. In freedom.
Following on the heels of the “Roaring Twenties,” the 1930s were a turbulent time. In the United States, the decade kicked off with the American Mafia fighting a civil war that resulted in the founding of a national Commission in 1931 to oversee disputes between crime families. One year later, the country’s most infamous mob boss, Alphonse Capone, was sent to prison for not paying his taxes.
At that same time, thousands of miles across the ocean, a man named Bernardus Andreas “Dries” Riphagen was getting into fistfights and playing the pimp in the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. After spending most of the 1920s working in the merchant navy as a sailor, spending two years working for Standard Oil in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Riphagen eventually returned home working odd jobs.
BIG PIMPING AND BECOMING THE DUTCH AL CAPONE
He became a used car salesman and dabbled in various nefarious dealings. By the mid-1930s, he had become a full-blown criminal running protection rackets and brothels in Amsterdam’s (in)famous Red Light District. He surrounded himself with pimps, fences, and gamblers. Having grown up with an abusive father who beat him six ways from Sunday, Riphagen was used to violence and did not think twice about using it himself.
“Everyone was scared shitless of him,” a former criminal from that era told journalists Bart Middelburg and René ter Stege in 1989 – both men authored the book Riphagen: The Amsterdam Underworld 1940-1945. “He was a very strong guy and a fighter as well. If he didn’t like something about you, he would punch you without hesitation.”
His fearsome reputation earned him the nickname “Al Capone.” Though it is unknown whether he gave it to himself or got it from others. Regardless of the origin, Riphagen went out of his way to become the Dutch version of the notorious Chicago mob boss. He was one of the few gangsters in the Netherlands of that time who carried a gun. As such, he instilled the fear of death in all members of the Amsterdam underworld.
That is, until the Germans invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. Now, Riphagen’s reputation or gun didn’t mean shit anymore. The Nazis ran the country and Riphagen could not wait to meet the new “boss.”
JOINING THE NAZIS AND HUNTING JEWS
Known for his hatred of the Jews, Riphagen was a logical Nazi collaborator. He was a member of the anti-Semitic National Socialist Workers Party and was involved in various incidents where Jews were threatened or cursed out in public.
But he was a hustler first and foremost and he realized that if he wanted to continue running his criminal operations, he needed the support of the occupying Nazi forces. Still in his early thirties, the crime boss got his “in” when he became a so-called V-man, or informant, for the German Sicherheidsdienst (SD).
In this capacity, Riphagen went looking for Jews who had managed to fly under the radar and evade the Nazis. With his cold-blooded, ruthless soul, his underworld contacts, and his knowledge of the things needed to live off the grid, he was the perfect man for the job. During his first raid, he arrested 21 Jews. They were all moved to concentration camps where they were murdered.
Hunting Jews was a sweet job for a vicious man like Riphagen, but it did not satisfy his greed. That is why he transferred to the Devisenschutskommando Niederlände, a unit which searched for Jewish property. While working there, he was able to combine his two favorite pastimes: Hunting Jews and getting money.
It was like letting a fox loose in the chicken coop. Riphagen tracked down Jews and property like no other. He pocketed cash, jewelry, art, and anything else of value whenever he could sneak it past the Nazis. Growing ever more brazen, he also began committing straight-up robberies knowing full well his targets were in no position to go to authorities. When he saved a nice loot, he’d travel to Belgium and Switzerland where he stashed it away for a rainy day.
ALLIED FORCES CLOSING IN: TRAITORS TURN ON TRAITORS
And that rainy day would one day come, Riphagen began to realize by 1944. The Allied Forces were fighting the good fight and were slowly closing in on the evil Nazis. If they were ousted, it was clear what would happen to a traitor like Riphagen.
By then, Riphagen had become pretty familiar with treason. As a Nazi-collaborator he himself of course had intimate knowledge of the pros and cons of being a traitor. And while working as a Jew hunter he also became familiar with the value of using other traitors to further his own goals.
With Allied Forces looming, the Nazis were desperate for information. As always, the only way to get crucial intelligence was to flip the enemy and use him first as a spy and then as the pawn that lures his or her colleagues into the hands of the Nazis and on to certain death.
It was a cruel tactic that pitted Jewish men and women against their own kind in a desperate attempt to save their own lives and those of their immediate loved ones. Most of them time it didn’t even save them. It only gave them a bit more time as they sold their soul and gave up others only to end up in the same death trap when the Nazis had no use for them anymore.
Though he knew the slim chances of survival for those who betrayed their own, Riphagen decided it was his only chance if he wanted to survive the oncoming slaughter when Allied Forces drove the Nazis out and the Dutch government was reinstalled. All he needed was a bit more time.
In May of 1945, Riphagen was running out of time and options. Via a fellow gangster-turned-Nazi collaborator-turned repentant informant, he contacted the Dutch resistance group Dienst Politieke Misdrijven (Political Crimes Service) which later became the Bureau Nationale Veiligheid (National Security Agency) and offered to give up information on his entire network of sources.
In return, Riphagen knew, they would shield him from prosecution – and keep him safe from people looking for bloody revenge - at least until they had uncovered and busted his entire network of snitches and traitors, after that he would have to face prosecutors. It was all the time he needed to plan his great escape.
As an informant, Riphagen pulled the same stunt as Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger did with his FBI handlers. He won their trust, pulled them close, and gave them information that benefitted his own situation. He accused others of crimes he himself had committed. All the while he stayed at the home of his handler, for safety reasons it was said.
But when prosecutors requested Riphagen be moved to a penitentiary in Amsterdam for further questioning in several criminal cases, his handler refused, telling them they could meet his informant at a hotel in Scheveningen. Upon arrival, the prosecutors were stunned to learn Riphagen had already left.
On February 18, 1946, Riphagen was officially declared a fugitive.
ON THE RUN TO NAZI PARADISE
As a Nazi collaborator there were few safe havens left in post-World War II Europe, but Spain was one, and it was as safe as it could get. The country was led by military dictator Francisco Franco, who had seized power in 1939 and was a staunch ally of both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
Under Franco’s rule Spain did as much as it could to support the Nazis in their quest for world domination and, when things didn’t exactly pan out as Hitler had hoped, helped scores of Nazis escape Europe and the wrath of Allied Forces.
As detailed extensively in the documentary series Hunting Hitler, Spain proved an extremely useful and trustworthy passageway for Nazis on the run, offering safe houses, false passports, various ports (including for submarines), and much more.
Photo: Dries Riphagen pictured second from left with his colleagues in Spain
It is no surprise then that Dries Riphagen found his way there in 1946. With help from several of his most trusted colleagues from the Amsterdam underworld, he was smuggled out of the Netherlands, through Belgium and France into Spain.
He wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms though. Lacking any official identity papers, authorities threw him in jail, where he remained for eight months, until he was able to bribe his way out. He did so with diamonds provided by Frits Kerkhoven, a detective with the Dutch National Security Agency and one of Riphagen’s handlers, according to Riphagen’s son Rob, who spoke with authors Bart Middelburg and René ter Steege about his notorious father.
While Kerkhoven helped out this wanted traitor, the Dutch government would not find out about Riphagen’s whereabouts until a year later. By then Riphagen’s escape caused a huge uproar and pressure mounted to not only find him but also get to the bottom of the conspiracy that allowed a war criminal of his pedigree to get away and evade justice.
When the Netherlands requested Riphagen’s extradition from Spain, the elusive gangster had already fled the continent entirely. He had landed in Argentina, another favorite destination for Nazis, and quickly established a bond with the country’s ruler, dictator Juan Perón.
Perón welcomed all fugitive Nazis with open arms and Riphagen was no different. He could – and allegedly did – use a man with his skill set. It also helped that Riphagen had become good friends with Rodolfo Valenzuela, Perón’s secretary.
As the 1950s began, the Dutch Al Capone had surrounded himself with a very powerful circle of friends and had all but made certain he would never have to face justice for his horrific war crimes.
Even when Perón was deposed by a coup in 1955 and had to flee to Spain, Riphagen still enjoyed his protection. Traveling under an Argentine passport he settled in West-Berlin, Germany, in the late 1950s. Both men stayed in touch by writing each other letters and occasional visits from Riphagen to Perón in Madrid. When the Argentine dictator returned to his country to resume power in 1973, Riphagen began making plans to rejoin his protector.
Though upbeat about going back to the Nazi paradise in South America, Riphagen did not feel like it. By then, cancer was eating away at his body. He died in May 1973 at an exclusive clinic for the rich and powerful in the Swiss hills north of the city of Montreux along Lake Geneva. He was 63.
He spent his last years, just like he spent his first: Hustling. While staying at various exclusive spas and resorts, Riphagen used his charm to sell mediocre jewelry at ridiculously high prices to rich widows and older single women.
No one there claimed to know about his Nazi past. Most there thought he was a poser or a gangster. Many there saw through his scams. Some fell for his charm and were worse off because of it.
As happens with most true crime stories that seem stranger than fiction, the life of Dries Riphagen was turned into a motion picture. Check out the trailer below: