June 10, 2005

Argentina removes an old stain


Kirchner voids a regulation issued in 1938 which prevented the saving of thousands of Jewish people

In July 1938, a year before the beginning of the Second World War, the embassies of Argentina in Europe received a secret communication -Circular number 11- by which they were ordered to deny entry visas to thouse who wanted to flee their country ”or those who had abandoned it on account of having been declared undesirable or had been expelled”. This order meant certain death for thousands of Jews who could not leave Germany and were later sent to the extermination camps. However, as happened with other written evidences related to the Holocaust, these documents vanished once the war was over and until the year 1998, when a forgotten copy was traced at the Argentine Embassy in Sweden. Now this secret order had been solemnly voided at Government House by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Rafael Bielsa, in the presence of President Nestor Kirchner.

After the victory of the Allies, Argentina became a haven for persons who had served Adolf Hitler’s regime. Several Jewish organizations have endeavoured to find out whether this collaboration had gone beyond the granting of safe havens. Thus, during the term of Menem’s presidency his Minister for Foreign Affairs, Guido di Tella, set up the Commission of Enquiry into the Activities of Nazism in Argentina (CEANA). One of the researchers traced the document that involved the 1938 Government in the denial of help for persecuted people, but the Menem Administration decided to file away the case and keep its contents secret. The researcher quit the commission and since then the Wallenberg Foundation -named after the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews and later disappeared after being arrested by the Soviets- demanded the annulment of a decree which obviously was no longer in force, but had left thousands of persons devoid of protection.

The stance of the Argentine authorities was to deny the existence of the circular. ”They used to say that we were struggling against windmills and that antisemitism was non-existent. Even the files disappeared from the Foreign Affairs Ministry. But in the end it could be located”, stated Baruch Tenembaum, president of the Wallenberg Foundation, for whom it is quite clear that in times of the war ”Argentina was a nest of Nazis”. Bielsa admitted yesterday that the original order had ”gone astray” for two years but was finally found in another file where it had been hidden. ”The Peronist and Radical Governments had refused to annul the decree because doing so would have implied admitting its existence”, stressed Mr Tenembaum.

To make things more entangled, in July 2001, under the Radical Government of Fernando de la Rua, a plaque was placed on the front wall of the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs to honor 12 Argentine diplomats ”who became prominent during the Third Reich regime for their solidarity and humane behaviour towards the victims of Nazism”, as read the text of the plaque. But in the light of the recently found document they did not act in that way, and even one of them was directly responsible for the fate of 100 Arentine Jews who had asked to return to their country and could not do so.

Antisemitism is not a minor matter in a country where at least 250,000 Jews are living, a country that suffered the worst two terrorists attacks in its history. In 1992 a bomb destroyed the Israeli Embassy, provoking 29 deaths. Two years later a car bomb destroyed the Jewish Welfare Center (AMIA) , which brought about the loss of 85 lives. ”I would like to point out the attitude of the Government, which has withdrawn the plaque and voided the circular”, said Jorge Kirszenbaum, president of the Federation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA).
Translation: Josefina Prytyka