A year after Argentine President Carlos Menem declared amid much fanfare that he was releasing secret files on Nazi war criminals in the country, almost nothing of import has actually been made public.
At the time, Menem declared that Argentina was “repaying a debt to humanity” and he declassified a small amount of information to coincide with his announcement. He ordered more files to be turned over to the National Archives, but not much has been released since then.
Simon Wiesenthal, the prominent hunter of Nazi war criminals, told a newspaper here that Menem’s move “was just a show and nothing of importance was turned over. Some files were missing; others were incomplete or superficial.”
“The Argentine government still hides information so as to deny Gen. Juan Peron’s responsibility in harboring Nazi war criminals,” Wiesenthal added.
When Menem first made his announcement, there was much excitement and expectation among Jewish groups to obtain sought-after information, since it is believed that Argentina once had the largest concentration of Nazi war criminals in the world.
Peron, who led Argentina during the late 1940s and early 1950s, was known as an admirer of fascism and Nazism and served as a military officer under Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
During his reign, many Nazis lived in Argentina. Among them were Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz doctor who performed sadistic experiments on inmates; Martin Bormann, Hitler’s deputy; Josef Schwammberger, commander of the Polish ghetto of Przemysl; Eduard Roschmann, Riga captain of the SS; and Walter Kutschmann, responsible for mass shootings in Lvov.
Nazi-hunters point out that files on at least 40 top Nazis known to have lived in Argentina are missing.
PAGES MISSING FROM FILES
The quality of the documents released a year ago has also been criticized. Eighty percent consist of newspaper clippings. Of 261 folios sent to the National Archives by the Argentine intelligence service, 255 are photostat copies from mostly foreign newspapers.
Argentine police files on Mengele, for example, have 21 consecutive pages missing, with the explanation that they were “purged” during the military dictatorship of the early 1970s.
Menem made his announcement last year before his first official visit to the United States, partly to satisfy the demands of the American Jewish community. An embarrassing article by Nazi-hunter Gerald Posner that discussed Peron’s ties to the Nazis had also appeared in The New York Times.
Posner wrote, “In the Argentine police files lies the answer to some of the greatest mysteries of World War II, including Martin Bormann’s destiny, Adolf Hitler’s heir, and that hundreds of millions of dollars taken from concentration camp victims were transferred to South America.”
Posner recently told a Buenos Aires newspaper that the files released by Menem did not shed much new light. Furthermore, some of the documents seen by Posner during his 1984 research for his book on Mengele were not among the ones released in 1992.
“I can clearly state that the dossier on Martin Bormann I saw was much bigger than the one open to the public,” said Posner.
“I can’t believe that police investigations into the numerous alleged appearances of Bormann during the 1950s and 1960s amounted to cutting out reports from foreign publications,” he said.
According to Eugenio Rom, director of the National Archives, many government agencies have not complied with the official request that documents be forwarded to the archives.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry, for example, has not done anything to open consular files from key European ports through which many Nazis passed on their way to Argentina.
WIESENTHAL TURNS DOWN INVITATION
Nazi-hunter Shimon Samuels, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has also been unable to get Central Bank files released.
Rom said he would continue to press for more information, including material sought by Wiesenthal to track down top Nazi war criminals.
Last year, Wiesenthal told Rom he hoped to locate Rudolf Mildner, a Gestapo head in a Polish city now believed to be 83 years old.
Another Nazi actively sought is Gestapo head Heinrich Muller. No details at all of these two men were among the files released in 1992.
In the wake of the criticism expressed by Wiesenthal regarding Menem’s failure to live up to his promises of releasing files, the Nazi-hunter was invited recently to visit Argentina.
But Wiesenthal has maintained publicly dozens of times that he has no wish to come to Argentina because he fears for his safety.
“Every Argentine government has protected war criminals,” he said almost a year ago. Wiesenthal, who is 83, was also quoted as saying: “At my age, it’s not necessary to run risks with so many paid assassins around.”