December 1, 2003

Controversy over a homage at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs


A plaque was elaborated distinguishing “saviors” of victims of Nazism with serious objections.

  • The Raoul Wallenberg Foundation objected one of the people honored for having been collaborator of the nazi regime.
  • There are another fifteen people who are not worthy of a distinction.

The permanence at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of a plaque in homage of twelve Argentine diplomats who helped victims of Nazism threatens to become a headache for the authorities of that Ministry.

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF), created in honor of the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews during the Second World War, objected the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because it says that one of the men included in the plaque is related to nazism and the rest of the people have not made enough to justify a homage, because they are just Argentines who helped fellow countrymen.

In a letter that the IRWF sent to the minister Rafael Bielsa, to which LA NACION newspaper had access, it was asked for the plaque to be removed immediately, for considering that there were names included whose trajectories contradict flagrantly the merit for which they are paid homage.

The foundation considers that the alluded diplomats at best saved Argentines of Jewish origin. To distinguish them as heroes, the IRWF says, would be a discrimination, because to help countrymen, independently of their religion, was the duty of those twelve officials.

Even more irritant was considered the inclusion of the name of Luis H. Irigoyen, official at the Argentine embassy in Berlin between 1937 and 1945, to whom in the letter, signed by the president of the Argentine branch of the foundation, Presbyterian Horacio Moreno, is pointed out as seriously committed to the extermination of about one hundred Argentines in the holocaust.

Officials of the Ministry interviewed by LA NACION did not hide their dislike to the letter sent by the IRWF and ratified that those names were selected after an investigation of the Commission for the Clarification of Nazi Activities in Argentina (CEANA in Spanish), created during Guido Di Tella’s period. In different official offices, they gave to understand that the objection would be to promote Uki Goni’s book (“The real Odessa”), the investigation about which the IRWF has based most of its accusations, or an “internal controversy” within the Jewish community, because during the ceremony of the presentation of the plaque, in July 2001, the former Israeli ambassador, Benjamin Oron, and authorities of the World Jewish congress and the B’ nai B’ rith were present.

Internal controversy

In spite of the dislike, some officials feel that the placing of the plaque was unnecessary and it satisfied the needs of former administrations. Other officials, on the other hand, defended that homage and considered that removing it would be a disaster. They all agreed on that final decision was Bielsa’s.

Besides Irigoyen, the diplomats whose names are on the plaque placed within the building of Arenales and Esmeralda streets are Jose Angel Caballero, Federico Fried, Miguel Angel Gamas, Juan Giraldes, Jacobo Laub, Roberto Levillier, Luis Luti, Hector Mendes, Jose Ponti, Alberto Saubidet, Leon Schapiera.

History, as it was said, started as an investigation carried out during Guido Di Tella’s period. The plaque was placed by the Minister of the Alliance, Adalberto Rodriguez Giavarini, and the first objections of the IRWF came up when Carlos Ruckauf was in charge of the Argentine diplomacy.

When Bielsa took office, the foundation insisted on its complaint and its authorities achieved to be received by the Minister on September 8. At that moment, Moreno and Baruj Tenembaum, founder of the IRWF, praised Bielsa’s attitude as a completely different one from the previous ministers. He created then a commission to investigate the background of the abovementioned diplomats on the plaque, headed by the Minister of Religion, Guillermo Oliveri.

Oliveri himself had set himself November 15 as deadline to issue a report. Days before the expiration of the term, the commission delivered Moreno all the available documents about Irigoyen. Sources of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with access to those copies explained that the file does not shows that Irigoyen has been a nazi collaborator.

The Commission did not present any document to sustain the inclusion of the rest of the diplomats in the plaque, a fact that produced the letter of complaint. The IRWF considered that the necessary explanations to justify the homage had not been given.

Interviewed by LA NACION, Oliveri ratified his absolute tendency to the investigation requested by the Wallenberg foundation. He pointed out that he would send the file to the Human Rights director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alicia Oliveira, and he added: “He have given it all the attention necessary at the Ministry. The fact that the investigation moves to the corresponding area does not mean that it will not have the celerity it must have.”

On the other hand, Oliveira was excited to continue with the investigation, though she avoided setting terms because she says that it has to be done seriously. She explained that she will ask for more documents about Irigoyen and that she will open the files about the other eleven diplomats.

The protagonists

  • Rafael Bielsa
    The minister ordered an investigation, but the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation considered it incomplete and asked the plaque to be removed.
  • Alicia Oliveira
    The human rights director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took over the investigation and promised to extend it.