The Argentinian Nazi Swamp
Part II: The Jerusalem-Buenos Aries-Tehran-Washington Quadrangle
Unlike my knowledge of Africa, I know very little about Latin America except what I have learned from my oldest son’s books and articles. Jeremy Adelman is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Princeton University where he once chaired the History Department and directed the Centre for Latin American Studies. He is an authority on Argentina. So what I know is mostly stolen from him. The mistakes are all mine.
As many of you know, this year I have been living in Mexico for the winter. Most readers are familiar with the scandal of the disappearance of 43 students here. On 26 September 2014, a group of Ayotzinapa rural teachers college students in the state of Guerrero, in the southwest of Mexico, were traveling to participate in a protest in nearby Iguala. Along the way, they were ambushed, evidently by the police. Three died and several were injured. A few escaped to tell the tale, but 43 disappeared. What happened to them?
What you probably do not know is that the parents of the missing students hired an experienced Argentinian investigative team that had honed its skills originally in the hunt begun in 1984 for Argentina’s 9,000 “disappeared” under the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. Mexico’s government claimed that the youth were handed over by the police to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel who killed them, burned their bodies in Cocula in southern Guerrero, threw the remains onto a garbage dump where they were burned and then flushed the ashes into a river to hide the evidence. Using forensic evidence on the ashes, the investigative team could only identify one student.
Further, the Argentine Forensic Anthropologists team said that there was absolutely no scientific evidence to support the Cocula garbage dump thesis. The narrative concocted by the office of attorney general Jesȕs Murillo Karam, supposedly based on 39 confessions, 386 declarations, 487 forensic tests, 16 raids and two reconstructive investigations, was suddenly highly suspect, especially when tests showed a dump fire could never turn a human body to ashes since the temperature would never be hot enough. The tooth found was from a denture and none of the students wore dentures. Most significantly, the attorney messed up the process of collecting 20 genetic profiles from family members, making then totally useless. Yet the mayor of the town of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda, have been in prison since November, along with 90 police accused of the crime.
Critics have insisted that the federal authorities and police were complicit in the crime all along. Key witnesses had been tortured according to Anabel Hernández, the lead investigative reporter for Proceso, and Steve Fisher of the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California Berkeley.
What has this to do with the 18 January mysterious death of the Argentinian federal prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, hours before he was due to testify on his investigations of the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community centre, Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires which left 85 people dead and 300 more injured? The large number of civilian dead, the alleged attempt to cover up the crime by federal officials, finding evidence in the trash (in the Argentine case, the discovery of a draft arrest warrant for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Nisman’s garbage), the whodunit common theme, the involvement of security forces, the mixture of incompetence and corruption, and the ultimate irony of Argentinians, who cannot get to the bottom of their most puzzling case in history, helping unravel Mexico’s scandal.
The Argentinian case is more interesting because it involved, probably until very recently when it was dissolved by the President, the Argentinian intelligence service. A former investigator into the case, Claudio Lifschitz, claimed he was abducted and tortured by SI agents. The Argentinian case also involved a foreign government, Iran, allegedly in cahoots with the government in Buenos Aries. After the AMIA bomb went off, corrupt police officers were arrested, but extraditions were deliberately bungled. An Iranian spy, Abolghase Mesbahi, had reported that Tehran had deposited $10 million into the Swiss bank account of Prime Minster Menem to thwart an investigation. Juan José Galeano, overseeing the case, was impeached 10 years later. In 2006, Nisman accused Tehran of abetting the Lebanese militants, Hezbollah, in the bombing.
But I want to go back to a much earlier period in Argentina well before the Iran-Argentina AMIA bombing link link via earlier Nazi connections and the swastika. The Iran link will be developed in a separate blog.
Before and during WWII, Argentina had close links with the three axis powers, Germany, Spain and Italy, the three major sources of European immigrants to Argentina. A solid phalanx of Germans lived in Argentina and preserved their language and culture. In the thirties and during WWII, Nazi agents were very active in Argentina and both Jewish and Polish immigrants in Argentina bore an understandable animus towards their “German” fellow citizens.
Juan Perón went even further when he took power in 1946. He had been a fascist admirer if not an outright fascist and had served as a military attaché to Benito Mussolini in the late thirties. He not only tolerated the Nazi presence in Argentina, but, through his agents, recruited Nazis as immigrants to Argentina, including wanted war criminals like Adolf Eichmann (Ricardo Klement in Argentina). Other Nazis fleeing prosecution included: the infamous Josef Mengele (Helmut Gregor in Argentina), the “Angel of Death” notorious for his “scientific” racial experiments and whose notoriety was publicized in the film, The Boys of Brazil; the Prussian aristocrat, Ludolf-Hermann Emmanuel Georg Kurt Werner von Alvensleben (Carlos Lücke in Argentina), nicknamed “Bubi” (Little Boy), the SS–Gruppenführer and Major General of the Police responsible for the Intelligenzaktion in Pomerania in the “Fordon Valley of Death” and mass murders in Piaśnica; Eduard Roschmann (Frederico Wegner in Argentina), the commander of the Riga concentration camp (the Butcher of Riga) known best through his portrayal in Frederick Forsyth’s novel, The Odessa File, and the movie adapted from it.
Aribert Ferdinand Heim (Tarek Hussein Farid in Cairo), a member of Hitler’s Waffen SS, the Doctor Death at the Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen concentration camps, was also rumoured to be hiding in Argentina, but had actually relocated to Cairo, whereas Adolf Eichmann, who was for years rumoured to be hiding in the Middle East, had actually relocated to Argentina.
Most of these Nazis were assisted in their escape from war prisoners’ camps after the war, provided with temporary false German identification papers until they were spirited out of Germany on passes supplied by the International Red Cross with the assistance of Alois Hudal, a titular bishop of the Catholic Church in the Vatican who had published a book, The Foundations of National Socialism (1937). Hudal was a critical nexus in the so-called ratline used to relocate Nazis fleeing arrest warrants to Argentina. In Argentina, the so-called Odessa network helped them find jobs or become managers and owners of businesses, often in Perón-sponsored cover firms for Third Reich technocrats. Though he had none of the requisite engineering skills, Adolf Eichmann was soon working for Compañia Argentina para Proyectos y Realizaciones Industriales, a company incorporated to provide electricity in the City of Tȕcamán.
Argentina was not only a haven for Nazis, but the largest centre for Nazis in the Americas. They dreamt of resurrecting National Socialism. It would take far more than this short blog to indicate the extent that Argentina had been a haven for Nazis. Note, I do not call them ex-Nazis because to a man they retained their allegiance to National Socialism throughout their lives. But the following additional select list can give you a sense not only of the Nazi presence in Argentina, but of the Nazi war criminals who found a relatively safe haven in Argentina. Most died natural deaths in Argentina, but some fled to Paraguay and Brazil when things became hot in Buenos Aries. Others returned to Europe. A few were caught and tried like Adolf Eichmann in Israel and Josef Franz Leo Schwamberger in Germany. Most were protected by the Argentinian government which refused requests for extradition.
- Hans Fischböck, finance minister of occupied Holland, responsible for the expropriation of Jewish property and sending Jewish labour to work in the arms industry
- Hans Hefelmann responsible for the Führer’s office for euthanasia and aiding in the murder of 75.000 people
- Fritz Lantschner, Gauamtsleiter. Government Director of the Reichsstatthalterei Tyrol-Vorarlberg; arrived in Argentina in 1948, subsequently becoming an Argentinian citizen; managed a building company in San Carlos de Bariloche, Río Negro
- Erwin Fleiss, former SS Sturmbannfȕhrer leader of the SS in the Gauleitung Tyrol and active in the pogroms in Innsbruck; arrived in Argentina ten years later and lived in Río Negro where he died in 1964
- Franz Rubatscher, police officer for the illegal NSDAP, arrived in Argentina in 1947 but was subsequently allowed to resettle back in Europe
- Fridolin Guth, SS-Hauptsturmfȕhrer, accused of taking part in the murder of French Partisans; arrived in Argentina in 1948
- Josef (Francisco) Vötterl, SS-Hauptsturmführer; arrived in 1948 and lived in Buenos Aires
- Josef Janko (José Petri), SS-Obersturmfȕhrer, arrived in Buenos Aires in 1951 and in 1955 obtained an Argentinian residency permit
- Josef Franz Leo Schwammberger, SS-Oberscharfȕhrer and commander of the forced labour camp in Rozwadów and then in the Przemyśl Ghetto, which was officially declared a work camp; arrived in Buenos Aires in 1949 and became an Argentinian citizen under his own name until an arrest warrant was issued by Argentinian authorities after which he arrested in 1987 and extradited to Germany where he was sentenced to life imprisonment
- Erich Rajakowitsch, member of the SS responsible for the deportation of Jews in the Netherlands; moved to Buenos Aires in 1947 but returned to Graz in 1952 where he lived for the rest of his life
- Gerhard Böhne, a lawyer with a doctor of laws, a Nazi war criminal guilty of the extermination of 62,000 people in psychiatric hospitals deemed too “defective” for a pure society and one of the very few Nazis who settled in Argentina in 1949 who was extradited back to Germany in 1966 to stand trial, a pyrrhic success since he was found to be unfit to be tried
- Johann von Leers, a legal scholar on racial-based legislation, who fled to Argentina in 1950 and five years later followed Aribert Ferdinand Heim (Tarek Hussein Farid) to Cairo to be reborn as Amin Omar van Leers
- Josef Vötterl, a member of the German Einsatzgruppen who arrived in 1949, returned to Germany in 1955 only to return once again to Argentina three years later to a good position
- Kurt Christmann, a twin of Josef Vötterl with a similar criminal record, head of the Gestapo in Klapenfurt and Salzburg, and in Russia served as head of the Einsatzgruppen in the town of Kransnoda, spent 5-7 years in Argentina before returning to Germany where he was tried and sentenced to ten years in prison.
There were many more. Most of these Nazis landed on their feet, most with new identities, jobs and financial security. They could, like Adolf Eichmann, even risk reuniting with their families. They also enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow Nazis, even publishing Nazi and anti-Semitic propaganda in the newspaper, Der Weg. Further, they had the additional support of Argentinian homegrown Nazis like Eberhard Ludwig Fritsch head of the Dȕrer publishing house in Buenos Aries, and the fawning services of a skilled “journalist,” Wilhelmus (Willem) Sassen. Adolf Eichmann may have been a very big fish in the Dȕrer swamp, but he still suffered mostly from the enforced anonymity in the world at large where he dreamed of recognition for what he believed were his great accomplishments in the extermination of the Jews.
In 1948, when Dr. Otto Günth, went to Buenos Aires as the first post-war Austrian consul, the sole focus was economic, not the repatriation of alleged war criminals. The Austrian Amnesties of 1955 and 1957 further reduced even tiny efforts to render justice for these escaped murderers. Austria was not the exception but the rule. Countries were keen on burying the past, not resurrecting tales of Nazi crimes. Argentina was just the worst in actively protecting and aiding Nazis. That is why it is so difficult to swallow the complete myth, a myth even believed in by most Jews, that Israel was created because of the Holocaust. In my research in UN archives, I could not find one reference to the Holocaust as a motive for supporting the partition resolution in 1947. What to do with the 200,000 Jewish refugees in Europe was a problem since no country then wanted them. As Bettina Stangneth wrote in her book on Eichmann, “Today it’s difficult to imagine what people in the early 1950s wanted to know about the National Socialist crimes – namely almost nothing.”
1955 was a turning point for two reasons. Juan Perón was deposed. The most active protector of the Nazis in Germany was gone. Further, scholarly books began to appear on the Holocaust. The Jews were not the only ones to suffer from this bracketing of history. So did Adolf Eichmann. In 1955, the French documentary Night and Fog was being shown around the world. Scholarly book after scholarly book was published documenting the atrocities of the Nazi regime with Eichmann’s name repeatedly mentioned as the orchestra conductor of the extermination. This should have made Adolf Eichmann alert to the dangers of his position, as it did Mengele who fled to Brazil. But Eichmann grew even more careless and, as the world knows, Israel’s Mossad finally tracked him down, abducted him and he stood trial in Jerusalem. There he was able to convince even as astute an intellectual as Hannah Arendt that he had only been a cog in a bureaucratic machine, an expression of the banality of evil, rather than a committed and innovative exterminator. However, convincing Arendt was a pyrrhic victory for that was precisely how he did not want to go down in history. He eventually received a posthumous victory of sorts in spite of his skillful acting in the courtroom in Jerusalem in the effort to avoid the death penalty.
However, the Eichmann trial had succeeded in making the Holocaust part of our world historical memory instead of just a subject of study for a small coterie of committed scholars. Eventually, it would lead to the resurrection of Adolf Eichmann as the operational head of a mass extermination machine and not a no-name bureaucrat.
If we transition through the years of Argentinian military dictatorship and the “Dirty War” from 1976-1983, a highly disproportionate number of Jews were among the estimated 9,000 (Nunca Más) disappeared; the Mothers and Grandmothers of the disappeared claim a figure of 30,000. Richard H. Curtiss in his book, In Memoriam: Jacobo Timerman, 1923- 1999, offered a figure of 15,000. In either case, there were many more than the 43 Mexican students who disappeared this past September. Jacobo Timerman, the famous Argentinian-Jewish journalist and publisher, founder of Primera Piana in 1962 and another news weekly, Confirmado, in 1965, both repressed by the military dictatorship that took power in 1966, founded La Opinión in 1971, the Le Monde of Latin America. On 27 July 1972, he was one of the targets of the 20 bombings in Buenos Aries on the twentieth anniversary of Eva Perón death.
In 1973, Juan Perón returned to Argentina when his front, Héctor Cámpora, was elected President but stepped aside upon Perón’s return. Juan was succeeded by his wife, Isabel Perón, when he died the following year. It might appear that after a hiatus of twenty years, the anti-Semitic fascists were back in full power. But, by and large, they had really never left power except for a few years of democracy, and, even then, they had only gone underground. Only the Peronist populist version versus the Catholic religious or the military faction resumed power. The military, just as they had in 1955, returned once again with a coup in 1976 and General Jorge Rafael Videla initiated military rule – el Proceso. .
Anti-Semitism continued to increase throughout the 1970s especially targeting Jews in the media. In 1977, Plan Andinia was published accusing the Jewish international conspiracy of trying to control Argentina. Bombs targeting Jews were going off at the rate of ten per month. An enormous bomb went off when Victory at Entebbe was screened in Córdoba causing enormous damage and many deaths. Timerman was soon arrested, but in 1979 was exiled to Israel where he wrote his 1981 famous book, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, about the years of Argentinian misrule, his torture and the anti-Semitism permeating Argentina. When he was being escorted out of Argentina, he learned that, “fifteen minutes after departure from my house, a group of military men arrived intending to kidnap me.” He would have become one of the disappeared.
Jacobo Timerman’s son became a famous Argentinian human rights advocate, then a diplomat and is currently Foreign Minister of Argentina. How did he become involved in alleged negotiations with Iran and the purported cover-up of the investigation of the 1983 Jewish community centre bombing? Or was he also a target of leaks from the intelligence service with its long tradition of anti-Semitism? Two years before the destruction of the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aries, the Israeli Embassy in Argentina was partially destroyed by a car bomb on 17 March 1992. What is the connection between these two culminations of a half century of anti-Semitism in Argentina in 1992 and 1994 and Tehran?
Two intervening tales need to be told. One is the story of the Argentine intelligence service and the other of the Iranian connection. Until the late 1990s, and, to some degree, right up to the present, the despicable role of the intelligence service and of the government has not been sufficiently exposed. In 1998, when the Argentine foreign minister Guido di Tella was opening the Commission for the Clarification of Nazi Activities in Argentina, he described the collaboration between Argentina and Nazi Germany as a ‘painful and shameful’ episode in Argentina’s history.
Let me finish by quoting my son. The origins of the Argentinian intelligence service “date to the first Juan Perón government (1946–55), which enlisted Nazi war criminals to serve as Perón’s spies. During the military junta’s rule in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the services were deeply involved in repressing the opposition and colluding with neighboring dictatorships.” (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2015/02/alberto_nisman_s_mysterious_death_and_president_cristina_fern_ndez_de_kirchner.html) It was the intelligence service that provided the leaks of immanent arrest warrants for Nazis in Argentina in the 1950s as regular scoops, thereby giving the Nazis time to flee to Paraguay or Brazil. It was the intelligence service through Antonio Stiusso who, like Deep Throat in the Watergate scandal, was feeding the key information of wiretapped conversations between top aides of Fernández and senior Iranian officials, to Alberto Nisman about squelching the AMIA inquiry and food-for-oil bargaining. The intelligence service may also have been responsible for Nisman’s death. Finally, following his death and the zig-zag responses of the government, President Fernández dissolved the intelligence service.
Tomorrow: The Iranian Involvement in Blowing Up the Jewish Centre in Buenos Aries