WASHINGTON, June 15 (JTA) — Argentine President Fernando de la Rua this week reiterated his plea of forgiveness in the name of his country for harboring Nazi criminals after War World II.
On his first official visit to the United States since taking office last December, de la Rua asked for forgiveness during a meeting Tuesday with American Jewish community leaders at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Many of Hitler’s followers, including such war criminals as Adolf Eichmann and Dr. Josef Mengele, found a safe haven in Argentina after World War II.
“I want to ask for pardon, in the name of the country, for the Nazis who hid among us,” he said. “In today’s world, I think one must examine the past so it cannot be repeated ever again.”
De la Rua traveled to the United States accompanied by Argentine Jewish community leaders and with Holocaust survivors living in the country.
The president visited the Holocaust museum with his wife and his entire entourage, including Cabinet members, public officials and business leaders.
De la Rua said he was very impressed by the museum.
“The memory of the dead will assure life,” De la Rua said after the visit.
“Strengthening the memory of the Holocaust will allow us to strengthen justice and help us prevent these horrors from reoccurring,” he said.
The executive director of the World Jewish Congress welcomed the Argentine president’s statement.
“What’s important is that in this case, symbolism is substance. Argentina, like other countries, has to deal with its past not because anyone today is guilty, but because it has a historic responsibility,” said Elan Steinberg.
Steinberg, along with Edgar Bronfman, chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States, met with de la Rua on Monday.
The WJC leader noted that de la Rua had offered the aid of his country’s Holocaust commission to the commission Bronfman chairs, as it grapples with the U.S. role in the Nazi era.
Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith, said after meeting with the Argentine president, said, “We welcome De la Rua’s request for forgiveness in the name of Argentina for the actions of some that allowed the entry of Nazi war criminals after World War II.”
De la Rua also apologized that Argentina did not do enough to aid Jews in their attempts to escape war-torn Europe, but also mentioned the work of some diplomats who gave special visas to escapees.
De la Rua has made several gestures toward Holocaust survivors since taking office.
On his first trip abroad as president, he traveled to an international gathering on the Holocaust held in Sweden.
Recently, he had lunch with a group of Holocaust survivors and awarded them presidential medals.
During his four-day visit to the United States, he also met with President Clinton and discussed investment in Argentina.
During his meeting with the Jewish community leaders, De la Rua announced that he will continue funding a special commission investigating the impact of Nazism on Argentine society that was created by his predecessor, Carlos Menem.
He also pointed to the recently created task force made up of security agencies that will help in the investigations of the bombings of the Israeli Embassy, in 1992, and the AMIA Jewish Community Center, in 1994.
More than 100 people died in the attacks.
(Washington Jewish Week News Editor Paul Amann contributed to this report.)