NEW YORK (Feb. 3)
In a well-publicized ceremony Monday, Argentine President Carlos Menem signed a decree opening the files of Nazi war criminals who lived in Argentina, documents that had previously been kept secret.
The files will be placed in the National Archives and thereby made available to anyone who wishes to see them.
The decision to do so, announced in Buenos Aires last week, appears to have come in response to a request from Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, and other Jewish leaders with whom Menem met here in November.
Menem promised to open the files at that time.
WJC officials Israel Singer and Elan Steinberg had followed up the request with a letter sent in December to Argentina’s interior minister, Dr. Jose Manzano.
Argentina’s leading daily newspaper, Clarin, reported that “in this way, the government fulfills a request made to Menem by the president of the World Jewish Congress, Edgar Bronfman.”
Clarin’s editor also published a note with a chronology of the many appeals by Jewish groups to open the files.
The country’s second-largest daily, La Nacion, likewise wrote that “the presidential decision is directly linked to a request made last November” by the WJC.
In November, Menem also met separately with 30 other Jewish community leaders, including members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League.
Rabbi Morton Rosenthal, Latin American affairs director for the ADL, said, “The president told us, ‘We have nothing to hide.’
“We applaud the president’s actions,” said Rosenthal, who has asked Argentine officials to find and extradite several Nazi war criminals.
‘RESPONSIVE’ TO JEWISH CONCERNS
Rosenthal said Menem has been “very responsive to issues of Jewish concern, and this is merely the latest incident demonstrating his sensitivity to such concerns by world Jewry.”
The Jewish community’s request to Menem was made shortly after an op-ed piece in The New York Times claimed that Argentina had sheltered Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler’s deputy.
The piece, by Gerald Posner, claimed that “at a time when Eastern European and Baltic countries are acknowledging their duty to review their role in the Nazi horrors, Argentina steadfastly refuses to conduct such an examination.”
Although reputable authorities have long claimed that Bormann died in Germany in 1945, there have been persistent rumors that he fled to Argentina with a vast sum of looted wealth.
Posner claims that a German forensic examination performed on bones discovered in Berlin in 1972 that were believed to be Bormann’s “was slipshod” and that “no German court has certified his death.”
At the November meetings, Menem denied charges that Argentina was hiding secret files on Bormann.
A U.S. government source said Bormann’s file would most probably contain sundry newspaper clippings about the rumors.
Argentina’s wartime leader, Juan Peron, took a pro-German stance, although Argentina officially remained neutral for most of the war years. But according to Posner, Argentina was “the largest listening post for Nazi intelligence outside of Germany.”
“Peron set aside more than 10,000 blank passports and identity cards for Nazi fugitives Bormann was at the top of the list,” wrote Posner, who is co-author of “Hitler’s Children and author of “Mengele, the Complete Story.”
Among the Nazis who found shelter in Argentina after the war were Adolf Eichmann Josef Mengele, Walter Kutschmann and Josef Schwammberger.
Schwammberger, who is currently being tries for war crimes in Germany, was extradited from Argentina two years ago. He had lived there since the war, openly using his own name.
The Dutch government has asked Argentina to extradite Abraham Kipp, who was convicted in 1947 for murdering 20 people. He reportedly disappeared from sight after being located by Dutch journalists.