BUENOS AIRES (Apr. 20)
Local Jewish leaders are reacting with skepticism to an Argentine government decision to create an independent commission to investigate claims that looted Nazi gold was secretly transferred to the country during and after World War II.
The announcement to form the panel was made last week by Interior Minister Carlos Corach, who said that Argentine President Carlos Menem “will invite relevant figures from Argentina and abroad” to join the commission, which will have a year to deliver its findings.
According to American researchers, Argentine banks figured prominently in a Nazi-sponsored scheme to launder money and smuggle looted gold into Argentina during the war years.
In a recently declassified memo dated April 1945, the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires estimated at the time that Nazi assets in the country were worth more than $1 billion.
Last year, Argentina’s central bank turned over five volumes of financial records to the local office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
But, according to Jewish researchers, that was the last time the government cooperated in their efforts to probe Argentina’s wartime past.
Three months ago, Sergio Widder, the Latin American representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, asked that Argentine officials track information about 334 Nazi officials and businessmen who may have transferred Nazi gold to local banks during and after the war.
After placing what he described as “endless calls,” Widder was granted an interview this week with government officials, who gave him a list of the banks operating in Argentina during the 1940s.
In an interview, Widder described this list as “perfectly useless information.”
Widder added that he remained skeptical about what the newly formed commission would find.
By contrast, Ruben Beraja, the president of the Argentine Jewish umbrella organization DAIA, voiced his support for the commission.
Beraja said in an interview that he had been invited to join in the commission and that he was “considering the idea.”
A source within the Jewish community was as skeptical as Widder, saying that “no miracles should be expected.
“The only way to find the truth is to investigate private banks, and no commission can do that. Anyway, banks are not requested to save records dating back more than ten years.”