How Juan Peron Brought the Nazi War Criminals to Argentina – book by Uki Goni.

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Uki Goni, an Argentine writer and journalist, has done extensive research and brought out new information in his book “The Real Odessa: How Peron Brought the Nazi War Criminals to Argentina”. With a meticulous examination of the archives in Argentina, the US and Europe, Goni has unearthed a lot of details which were once buried in secrecy. 

Juan Domingo Peron was an admirer of Fascism and Nazism from the beginning. During his army assignment in Italy from 1939 to 1941, he had travelled to Germany and was inspired by the new ideologies of Europe. The Argentine military dictatorship had maintained neutrality between the Allies and Axis powers and got the best from both sides through exports of commodities and minerals. It was only at the very end of the war that Argentina broke diplomatic relations with Germany. The Nazis had also an eye on Argentina and South America as a prospective area for future exploration and control. 

As President of Argentina in his first term from 1946 to 1952, Peron had given refuge proactively to hundreds of Nazi war criminals as well as their collaborators in other parts of Europe and helped them to settle down in Argentina. The local German community and companies in Argentina contributed to Peron’s political career and took his support to bring in their relatives and friends some of whom were Nazis. 

Apart from his ideological sympathy, Peron wanted to recruit German engineers and experts to help with Argentina’s production of aircraft and weapons as well as nuclear plans, besides other civilian industrialisation of the country. Peron had long cherished the dream of turning Argentina into a military-industrial power in its own right. In mid-1945 he sent an Argentine officer of German descent, Colonel Julio Hennekens as well as others to comb Europe and recruit as many experts as possible. 

The government of Peron had set up a Delegation for Argentine Immigration in Europe (DAIE) with offices in Genoa and Rome. They were part of a grand strategy to organize 30,000 Europeans a month for a total of 4 million to boost the economic progress of Argentina. One of Peron’s talent agents Fuldner even carried an official passport inscribed with the title ‘Special Envoy of the President’. 

A personal friend of Peron, retired army major Benito Llambí headed the Argentine legation in Berne called as ‘Argentine Emigration Centre’.  This had helped in the escape of Eichmann and Mengele among others to Argentina. Swiss bankers and government officials had collaborated with the Argentines for money and also out of Nazi sympathy in a few cases.
The Vatican, as well as the catholic clergy in Europe and Argentina, had played a prominent role in the escape of some war criminals to Argentina. 

Senior priests in Vatican lead by the German Bishop Alois Hudal had provided a hiding place for some fugitives within Vatican premises and arranged documents and passports. Some Nazis had disguised themselves as priests during their travel to Argentina. In late 1946, Draganovic, a Vatican priest, obtained a blanket landing permit from Peron’s government for 250 Croatians.

With this, he helped to smuggle Croatian Ustasha criminals and former members of Croatian government including Ante Pavelic, the Nazi puppet president of Croatia, who arrived in Argentina in November 1948. 
On the Argentine side, the Archbishop in Buenos Aires had put in official requests for hundreds of visas for the war criminals describing them as “anti-communist fighters”.

The Argentine priests had helped in the settlement of the fugitives after their arrival in the country. A Belgian war criminal Pierre Daye and his entourage set up SARE, the Society in Argentina for the Reception of Europeans. The organization established its headquarters at 1358 Canning Street, a grand colonial-style building owned by the archbishopric of Buenos Aires.

In July 1949, Peron granted a ‘general amnesty’ for foreigners who had entered the country ‘illegally’. This helped the fugitives to regularize their stay and get Argentine documents, citizenship and passport.
A number of Argentine diplomats, immigration officials and middlemen made money in selling visas and residence permits. Some of the smugglers of the war criminals had direct access to the office and residence of President Peron. Thanks to such access, Nazis were picked up by special launches secretly before the ships docked at the port of Buenos Aires and avoided the official immigration checks.

Among those who got refuge in Argentina besides the German Nazis were other war criminals and Nazi collaborators from Croatia, Serbia, Slovakia, Austria, Italy, France and Belgium. 

The high profile criminals who found refuge in Argentina included: Adolf Eichmann, who masterminded the identification, transportation and murder of six million European Jews (who was later kidnapped by Mossad in 1960 and tried and executed in Israel); Josef Mengele, who conducted macabre experiments among the Jewish prisoners. Argentina had dragged its feet to Germany’s request for extradition and he fled to Brazil, where he died; Josef Schwammberger, an Austrian Nazi who carried out a mass execution of Jews. He was extradited later to Germany; and Vittorio Mussolini, the son of the Fascist dictator, who reached Argentina in 1947. 

Some of the war criminals settled themselves luxuriously in large mansions in the heart of the diplomatic district of Buenos Aires along with their loot of gold and foreign exchange from the Jews and Treasuries of the governments. Others went to interior places such as Tucuman, Tandil, Cordoba and Bariloche, the famous ski resort. Many fugitives went into farming, business and professions. A few got government jobs including in the crucial immigration department. 

A group of Germans set up a company CAPRI in Tucuman for infrastructure projects. Most of the 300 plus employees were recent German immigrants. This company was officially recognized by Peron’s government which gave contracts. 

Some Nazis in Argentina went into arms business and were acting as advisers to the rulers of Paraguay, Chile and Bolivia.

The Nazi fugitives in Argentina published Der Weg, a monthly magazine which was distributed in South America and even in Europe including Germany. The circulation reached a high point of some 20,000 copies and gained a reputation as the organ of a ‘Fourth Reich’ in Argentina.

In response to the international public outcry on the Nazi links, the Argentine foreign ministry set up a commission CEANA which worked between 1997 and 1999 and issued a series of reports. CEANA identified 180 war criminals who had arrived in Argentina. Uki Goni, the author of this book was also included in CEANA along with some international scholars. But he resigned after three days, unable to go along with the blatant official cover-up. The government burnt the incriminating documents and cleaned up the archives in the nineties.

It is important to note that the Argentine government had a policy to deny visas for the European Jews who were fleeing from Nazi extermination. This despite the fact that Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America. They have their even their golf club Golf Sociedad Hebraica in Pilar, a suburb outside Buenos Aires city.

Argentina received the largest number of Nazis in South America due to the personal interest shown by President Peron. It is believed that as many as 5,000 fugitives went to Argentina; between 1,500 and 2,000 to Brazil; around 500 to 1,000 to Chile; and the rest to Paraguay and Uruguay. The German communities in South America flourish in the industrial sector, with their typical traits of hard work, technology skills and entrepreneurship.

According to author Goni, there is another Argentine connection to the Nazis. Richard Walther Darre, who proclaimed the existence of a mystic bond between the German homeland and “racially pure” Germans, was actually born “Ricardo” in Buenos Aires. His German immigrant family sent to him to the fatherland for schooling at the age of nine. Darre specialized in agriculture at the university, the logical choice for someone with an Argentine background at a time when the succulent beef and abundant wheat of Argentina’s pampas made the country renowned as the “breadbasket of the world.”

For a while, during the 1920s, he contemplated returning to Buenos Aires to pursue a career in farming, but that was before his writing caught the attention of Adolf Hitler’s rising Nazi Party. His 1930 book A New Nobility of Blood and Soil, in which he proposed applying selective cattle-breeding methods for the procreation of perfect Aryan humans, dazzled the Fuhrer.

As early as 1932, Darre helped the SS leader Heinrich Himmler to set up the Race and Resettlement Office in order to safeguard the “racial purity” of SS officers. Darre’s work also inspired the Nazi Lebensborn (Fount of Life) program that rewarded “unmarried women and girls of good blood” who had children with racially pure SS officers. Hitler was so impressed with the “Blood and Soil” movement that in 1933 he named Darre Germany’s minister for agriculture. Darre held the post until 1942 when he developed mental health problems.  Darre was convicted at the Nuremberg Trial and sentenced to jail. He died of cancer in 1953.

The book is useful to understand yet another legacy of Peronism which has remained as a perennial force in the politics of the “complicated” country for the last eight decades.

Source: Rengaraj Viswanathan ( ex Indian Ambassador to Argentina )


THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Documents for the first time how Juan Perón clandestinely maneuvered to bring Nazi war criminals to Argentina after World War II.”

THE OBSERVER:  “Fascinating … frightening.”

TIME: “A corageous book.”

LE MONDE: “Goñi reveals that Argentina’s best-kept state secret is a secret directive … prohibiting the entry of Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany.”

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