December 30, 2002

Relations with Hitler Remain a Mystery


The Argentine files are still closed to independent investigators who want to study the country’s relationships with the Third Reich. Friction between the Wallenberg Foundation and the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs further illustrates the problem.

It all shows that Argentina’s friendly relations with the Third Reich will continue to be a repugnant fact, something not to be talked about. The official answer of the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs to a letter sent by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation shows that its refusal to permit an investigation of that shameful period still remains State policy. The letter deals with a thorny matter: according to the Chancellery there are eleven Argentine diplomats ”who saved Jews” and deserve tribute and remembrance. But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs never provided the documentation in support of the acts of the officials. Moreover, the list includes the name of none other than Luis H. Irigoyen, of whom it is documented that he did everything he could to ban the Jewish emigration to Argentina during the war. He even refused to help Argentine Jews living in Europe. In fact, the Nazis exterminated these countrymen because of his intervention.

The Wallenberg Foundation honors the Swedish diplomat who saved hundreds of lives by the end of the Second World War and paid with his life for his activities in support of Jews and other persecuted groups. By mid November, the Foundation wrote Chancellor Carlos Ruckauf asking him for help in clarifying ”a situation” that intrigued them. It seems that the Commission for the Clarification of Nazi Activities in Argentina, CEANA (in Spanish), is dedicated to compiling a list of ”Argentine diplomats who saved Jews.” The people on this list were paid tribute during the last Book Fair in an exhibition called ”Visas for Life”. The Wallenberg Foundation observes that the State Department letter intermingled these Argentines with ”authentic, proven saviors” such as the Vatican Nuncio Angelo Rotta, the Portuguese Sousa Mendes and Wallenberg himself.

It is not that the Foundation questions the presence of the Argentines in this context. What it requests, however, is the documentation demonstrating that they deserve to be there, the kind of documentation that they requested from the CEANA ”more than once” and never received.

The Ministry, in contrast to the CEANA, answered the Foundation. But it did not give, or offer to give, any documentation. Signed by the deputy secretary of Foreign Politics, Ambassador Fernando Petrella, the note is a model of diplomacy which explains that the list was developed not only by the Ministry but also by researchers belonging to the CEANA and, partially, by the Center of Social Studies of the main political institution of the Argentine Jewish Community (DAIA). It also points out that Israel and the International Jewish community implicitly accepted their list of names, because the Israeli Ambassador, Benjamin Oron, spoke during a tribute paid to these individuals, attended also by ”representatives of the World Jewish Congress and the local branch of the B’nai B’rith”.

Petrella attaches ”the biographical synopsis” of eleven individuals ˆand not twelve, as appeared on the list at the Book Fair” They are described as ”native and naturalized Argentines” whose ”humanity and solidarity with the victims of Nazism supported their being registered in the Argentine and German official records”. As a safeguard against possible misunderstanding, Petrella adds that the officials are not on the list of the ”Righteous among the Nations” which can only be determined by the Israeli Yad Vashem Holocaust authority.

What Petrella does not include are the concrete references to the ”Argentine and German official records” which he mentions in a general way, and the documentation that would prove the humanity of these diplomats. This detail is relevant, because it not only demonstrates once more that the files of the Ministry of Foreign Relations are impenetrable, but that this lack of documentation also includes the lack of justifying the presence of Luis H. Irigoyen on the list.

The Argentine Chancellery describes Irigoyen as a career diplomat who was a civil attaché to Berne and Berlin between the years 1927 and 1937, and second secretary in Germany between 1937 and 1944, in charge of business affairs between 1937 and 1942. Petrella’s note indicates that ”the German files” reveal that Irigoyen ”got interested” in achieving that the Nazis would allow Ilse Sara Schnapek, a Jewish employee from Poland at the Argentine embassy in Vienna, to emigrate to Argentina, together with her mother and sister. According to the same sources, says the note, Irigoyen interceded on behalf of an Argentine Jew, Rosa Kulka, who received rationing cards in 1943. Further, the secretary had averted the deportation of the Argentine, Israel Hecht, and he was thought to have protested the deportation attempts to Germany of the Argentine Jewish community in Greece and the imposed use of the yellow star by these countrymen.

Since the State Department never says which German files they refer to in particular, it is hard to know whether they refer to the same ones that the Argentine researcher Uki Goñi consulted for his book The Real Odessa. In this troubling story of how Juan Peron assembled a vast network of intelligence to bring to the country hundreds of German, Croatian, Italian, French, Dutch and Belgian war criminals, Goñi deals with a remarkable level of detail and documents the relentless Argentine foreign policy of resisting the arrival of European persecuted people and of collaborating with the Nazis, before, during and after the war.

The shocking thing is the volume of documentation offered by Goñi, carefully written and footnoted in detail. What Argentina still keeps secret, Germany has already opened up to investigators. The German documents cited by Goñi describe Irigoyen very differently, i.e., as a diplomat who exasperated the German Chancellor Ribbentrop because Irigoyen flatly refused to evacuate the Argentine Jews from Europe. Ribbentrop defended this group of Jews in particular to maintain good relations with a country that was an ally, and did not really understand the Argentinian’s apathy toward taking advantage of the opportunity to save fellow Argentines.

Irigoyen denied that hundreds of Argentines residing in Europe were in fact Argentines when the Germans submitted to him a list they -and not he- had developed. The final destination of those fellow countrymen was the gas chambers.

But all this indicates that not even that investigation, so well documented, with file number, folder, box and even shelf, can move the Argentine State. Similarly, that it does not see anything remarkable in the fact that a strident anti-Semite such as writer Hugo Wast is still honored with a special hall in the National Library. Or that Irigoyen is forced on lists of righteous men, while he surrendered Argentine citizens, whom he was supposed to defend, to the Nazis.

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