julio 9, 2003

National Public Radio (NPR) Interviews the IRWF

Argentina Probes Alleged Cover-Up of Nazi Links

HOST:

The president of Argentina has ordered an investigation into whether government employees secretly destroyed files that contained details about Nazi war criminals who came to the country after World War Two. The inquiry comes in response to a book entitled ”The Real Odessa,” which accuses the government of trying to hide its past collaboration with escaped Nazis. NPR’s Martin Kaste reports from Buenos Aires.

The book, written by Argentine journalist Uki Goni, accuses the Argentine government of systematically harboring war criminals such as Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele after the war. What has come as a shock to many Argentine readers is the author’s account of the present-day government’s reaction when he asked the immigration office for its files on specific war criminals.

GOÑI:

A storm broke over my head. Dark words were uttered against the Jews. I was told, ”We would be glad, if you didn’t return tomorrow.”

For the last decade, the government has had an official policy of disclosing the details of its involvement with escaped Nazis. But Goni says that spirit of disclosure wasn’t evident — even when higher authorities gave him written permission to see the files.

GOÑI:

So I went to migrations, and said, ”Okay, I’m here, I’d like to see the files,” and they said, ”please come outside,” and they took me outside, and they said, ”Look, we couldn’t put it in writing, but those files contained information that was very embarrassing for Argentina, and two years ago we burnt them in a fire behind the migrations building here.”

Goni’s story troubles Argentine Jews such as Gustavo Jalife. Jalife is a board member of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, a group that tries to improve relations between Argentine society and the Jewish community — South America’s largest.

In the national Catholic cathedral, Jalife proudly shows off a memorial to the Holocaust — a large silver frame containing pages salvaged from old Jewish prayerbooks from Europe.

JALIFE:

This kind of memorial you will not find it in New York or London or any other capital of the world, in history, this is the first time such a memorial is installed inside a Christian temple.

But the memorial also reveals the dark side of the Jewish experience in Argentina: some of the prayerbook pages were recovered from the Buenos Aires Jewish community center that was bombed in 1994. That crime — which killed 86 people — remains unsolved.

In a cafe near the cathedral, Jalife and other members of his organization say they’re worried that the story of the missing files is evidence that the Argentine government is STILL not willing to come clean about the past. Albert Kaplan recalls the post-war government of Juan Peron, whose fascist sympathies were no secret. Peron is long gone, but not his peronist party.

KAPLAN:

I feel that all this attitude is trying to cover up is the fact that the same party that is now running the country was in those days fifty years ago was strongly anti-semitic. I think they’re trying to change history if they may.

The new Peronist president — Nestor Kirchner — recently asked the national anti-discrimination agency to find out what happened to the war criminals’ immigration files — if they ever existed. But this move came only after months of pressure by U.S.-connected groups such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and even a congressman from New York.

Some Argentines betray a certain weariness about foreigners’ undying fascination with this topic; Tocruato DiTella is Argentina’s secretary of culture.

DITELLA:

In the United States and in Europe, very often, there’s a feeling that peronismo is really ”incorrigible,” and that basically, they are not if not fascists then they were and are now philo-fascists, and that they cannot be trusted.

DiTella, who serves on the government’s commission investigating the Nazi history, has advised Americans to ”avoid conspiracy theories.” Statements such as this have caused some Jewish groups to wonder whether official Argentina is now more interested in whitewashing the past.

Sitting in a restaurant near the rebuilt Jewish Community Center, Adrian Jmelnizky [Chmelnizky] looks tired just thinking about the task ahead of him. He’s an experienced researcher of the Nazi past, and he’s likely to be the one who’ll be asked to wade into the chaos of the immigration archives to try to find the Nazi files.

JMELNIZKY:

”They told me there’s a warehouse called the ‘flea warehouse,’ where there are rats and vermin,” he says… and he’s been told that in order to research in there, he’ll have to wear a mask and gloves. As far as Jmelnizky is concerned, researchers such as himself have already established the fact that war criminals were harbored by the Peron government, and he wonders what information the missing files could possibly contain that would be worse than that. Nonetheless, he says he’s willing to put on his gloves and keep searching.

Martin Kaste, NPR news, Buenos Aires.