Documents about Nazis in Argentina are hard to certify as genuine. Document on left describes how Nazis were using submarines to smuggle their fortune in Argentina through accounts of Eva Duarte (later Eva Peron). Document on right shows the wrong address for Josef Mengele in a German indictment (Virrey Ortíz 970)PHOTO MONTAGE BY ALEJANDRO CHAFUEN FROM PICTURES APPEARING IN AFTERMATH, BY LADISLAO FARAGO
When the German indictment came, Mengele had already left. His departure, however, was not due to the formal accusations. He was feeling safer in Argentina so, at the time, he even had documents issued under his true name. Among other fake covers, he had been going by the name of Helmut Gregor. After some menial jobs and humble business efforts, Mengele had become a leading provider of abortions in my neighborhood and vicinity. One of his clients died on the operation table, after which Mengele was detained, fingerprinted and subsequently freed. Through his connections he was let go but the encounter was too close for comfort and he decided to leave fast for Asunción, Paraguay. Many years later, when President Carlos Menem was positioning Argentina closer to the United States and the West, in a rare moment of Argentine transparency, he ordered to open and share the Nazi files. It was in the mid 1990s during his second term when he decided to create a commission to disclose National Socialist activities, the Comisión para el Esclarecimiento de las Actividades del Nazismo en la República Argentina (CEANA). After two years of investigations, the commission acknowledged there were 180 confirmed cases of Nazis accused of crimes who went to Argentina.
Unlike what some movies such as Marathon Man and The Boys from Brazil(and a few scenes in Operation Finale) depicted, Nazis like Eichmann and Mengele did not work with a network of powerful Argentines to recover power and establish a Fourth Reich. Their freedom depended on maintaining a low profile. Although few were caught or indicted, there is no doubt about their presence in my native country. Another well documented case was that of Erich Priebke (1913-2013), detained in the mountain city of Bariloche and sentenced to life in prison for the 1944 killings in the Ardeatine caves in Italy
But conspiracy theorists focused on Martin Bormann and Adolph Hitler. Their narrative, that Hitler faked his April 30, 1945 suicide, Bormann did not die in an attack a few days later (May 2) and that both were working to establish a Fourth Reich could make for better book sales.
The evidence presented by some who, like Ladislao Farago, devoted an important part of their life to track Nazis, is stronger in the case of Martin Bormann. Farago wrote a 480-page book with abundant documentation. I still, nevertheless, have doubts that Bormann survived. The documentation that Farago reproduced in the book was shown to him in the early 1970s. Those documents present a compelling but ultimately unverifiable story.
Farago is not alone: The most famous Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, also believed that Bormann was probably alive “living near the frontier of Argentina and Chile.” The Argentine intelligence service SIDE, however, claims that any documents Farago alleges were shown him by agents were most likely fabricated. When Eichmann was kidnapped, the SIDE claims that they “let it happen.” They were tracking and not putting blocks on the Mossad operations. Argentina’s president at the time, Arturo Frondizi (1908-1995), a civilian, was trying to get the political support of Nazi sympathizer Juan Perón, then in exile in Spain. Collaboration with the Israelis at that time could have jeopardized Frondizi’s plans.
What are the lessons that I, and others, can learn from this continuing hunt and focus on one of the worst actions committed by humans? I am a strong believer in the truth of philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There is one lesson: forgetting the horrors of the past is dangerous. The most advanced countries are not immune from the worst horrors. The other lesson is how a determined group of victims of totalitarianism can help maintain the fight for justice until the end.
What about the questions raised by the hunt for Nazis? The Israelis were not the only ones tracking the Nazis, and conspiracy theories abound. Before the United States declared war against them, many of the business “nobility” from the United States and other countries profited from doing business with the National Socialists. During the early 1940s, the U.S. government, both through its embassies and the War Department, recruited talented people to track collaboration and communications between Latin American governments and the National Socialists.
Facts or fiction?
The facts that Bormann had access to the fortune of the Nazis, and that Allied countries would have liked to return the loot to rightful owners and a British operation (under the command of none other than Ian Fleming) was tasked with Bormann’s capture fed many theories. The operation’s code name was “James Bond” and a long book, Op JB describing it, appeared more than two decades ago. Fleming ruminated about creating the James Bond character and thrillers at the Estoril Palace Hotel in Portugal. The knowledge and involvement of U.S. and U.K. intelligence services provided abundant ammunition for conspiracy theorists. Additionally, a Soviet interest in helping spread such rumors and innuendo cannot be denied.
Aftermath and Op JB are just two of the books about Martin Bormann alleged escape where facts are mixed with fiction and mistakesPHOTO MONTAGE BY ALEJANDRO CHAFUEN, CROPS OF THE COVERS OF BOOKS IN HIS POSSESSION
I also wonder, and am frequently asked, why aren’t accomplices of other totalitarian massacres and more recent genocides hunted and prosecuted with the same zeal? I do not have room for a detailed answer, but it boils down to a mixture of interests, ideas and leadership. As Alan Charles Korsand other have shown, one of the reasons why the atrocities of communism have not gotten the same scrutiny than those of Nazism and fascism has to do with the ideologies being spread by statist academic environments. Some criminals and accomplices from other totalitarian regimes that are still with us might be our neighbors.
Going back to the recent film, despite several fabricated scenes and characters, Operation Finale is worth watching. It is helpful for not forgetting our past. But in truth, operations against criminals from totalitarian states will never end, they are never final. There should be a war without end against them.