June 10, 2005

Argentina eliminates two unfortunate remains of its past

On Wednesday June 8th, 2005, a ceremony headed by national president Néstor Kirchner in the Salón Sur of Government House, the decree withdrawing a secret, strictly confidential document that was deeply discriminatory and had been hidden for sixty six years.

It was about secret law number 11, one of the very most secret under the custody of the Argentine State, an order signed in 1938 by then Foreign Minister José María Cantilo and sent to each Argentinean delegation around the world, with the purpose of preventing Jews and other people persecuted by the Nazis from entering Argentina.

From New York, Baruch Tenembaum, founder of the International Foundation remarked: ”Secret law number 11 was an incompatible element with the human values that must prevail in a democratic government.”

”The Wallenberg Foundation headed the requests for the repeal of this norm”, said daily newspaper Clarín, one of the most widely sold in Latin-America.

”Derogation has been requested for years by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation”, newspaper Infobae informed.

On the ceremony president Kirchner and Foreign Minister Bielsa were together with Interior Minister Aníbal Fernández and Natalio Wengrower, vice president of the Wallenberg Foundation also attended by Beatriz Gurevich and journalist Uki Goñi.

Aníbal Fernández had taken interest in this case in April. After three years of complaints and negotiations, the Wallenberg Foundation sent a stern letter in which they denounced the existence of a plaque that appeared in the Foreign Affairs building honoring twelve Argentine diplomats for their alleged solidarity during the Holocaust. The plaque, unveiled in July 2001 by Foreign Minister Adalberto Rodríguez Giavarini, included the name of Luis H. Irigoyen, a diplomat who during his mission in Berlin in 1943 had ignored the fate of 100 Argentine Jews that the Nazi Regime offered to repatriate to Argentina, as a good will gesture towards a country with whom they maintained excellent relations. According to investigations carried out by the Foundation, the remaining eleven members of the foreign service did not deserve the homage either since they had only assisted Argentine citizens in Europe during the years of war.

Resolution number 999 which finally withdrew the plaque was dated 16th May, 2005.

In his speech, Wengrower emphasized that, ”during more than three years the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation intensely negotiated, despite the opposition and indifference of many, the removal of this unjustified homage and the annulment of secret law number 11, that was the direct or indirect cause, of an unknown quantity of deaths whom we will never know. Justice has been finally made after sixty six years.”

Secret law number 11 was discovered in 1998 by the Argentine researcher Beatriz Gurevich. When she reported her discovery to the Foreign Affairs Ministry the document was filed and presumably destroyed. Only when Wallenberg Foundation decided to make public a copy on it’s web site, was when Circular Number 11 started to be known both in Argentina and around the world.

”I would like to point out the honest and sustained relationship between the Wallenberg Foundation and the citizenry. Not only do I want to pay homage to the talent and exhaustive research, but also to the perseverance and insistence”, Foreign Minister Bielsa said.

”When I took the decision of writing the derogation order, I obviously asked for the original… but it had disappeared, it was not there”, Bielsa explained.

”I am disappointed with myself for not having done this one year ago, and at the same time, I am thrilled for doing it today,” Bielsa ended while addressing Wengrower.

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Translation: Enrique Borst