Nazis & Argentina: a History Lesson

Gringo in Buenos AiresHistory30 Comments

Any expat living in Buenos Aires will be aware of Argentina’s open door policy towards immigration. After all, lots of us just hop over to Uruguay every three months to perpetually renew our tourist visas. Technically it’s illegal to spend more than six months per year here on a tourist visa, but no-one seems to mind.

In fact, Argentina has had an open door policy on immigration for the last 200 years, including a long period where immigration (specifically from European countries) was actively encouraged. And how’s this for a factoid: between 1821 and 1932, Argentina was #2 in the world in the number of immigrants that it admitted, a staggering 6,405,000 people. (Wondering which country was #1 in the world during this period? It was of course the United States of America, admitting approximately five times as many immigrants as Argentina!)

So far all this sounds innocuous enough. It’s nice that so many people who want to settle in Argentina have been able to. But in the aftermath of World War II, Argentina’s door was open to a much more sinister group of people: Nazis and Nazi collaborators fleeing Europe in order to escape trial (or, one supposes, a bullet in the head courtesy of Mossad) for their war crimes.

Shameful enough, but it gets worse. Despite an official position of neutrality, it appears that the Argentine government also actively supported Nazi Germany during the war, and that the offer of a safe haven to Nazis after the war was simply an extension of this support.

The main villain of this piece, perhaps unsurprisingly, was Juan Perón. Perón was sympathetic to the Nazi cause and in 1943 traveled to Germany to discuss the possibility of an arms deal between Argentina and Germany.

Investigators believe that following the war, a cabal of ex-Nazis and Nazi collaborators formed in Argentina and worked with the Perón government (he became president in 1946) to organize the emigration of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of their kind to Argentina. Members of the group frequently travelled to Europe to look for and bring back more of the fugitives.

It’s not known exactly how many ex-Nazis were brought to Argentina during the late 1940s and early 1950s. One researcher identified 300, but there easily could have been more. What is known is that they included Josef Mengele, Adolf Eichmann and his adjutant Franz Stangl, Erich Priebke (a former Captain in the Waffen SS), Klaus Barbie – also known as ‘the Butcher of Lyon’ (a former Captain in the SS and a member of the Gestapo), Ustasha Dinko Šaki? (former commandant of the concentration camp that was nicknamed ‘the Auschwitz of the Balkans’) and many, many others.

The ex-Nazis were given landing permits and visas and it has also been claimed that many of them were even given jobs in Perón’s government.

In 1998, while opening the Commission for the Clarification of Nazi Activities in Argentina, the Argentine foreign minister Guido di Tella described the collaboration between Argentina and Nazi Germany as a ‘painful and shameful’ episode in Argentina’s history. It is undoubtedly that. However, in fairness it must also be mentioned that as well as accepting ex-Nazis, Argentina under Perón also accepted more Jewish immigrants than any other country in Latin America. Today Argentina has over 200,000 Jewish citizens, the sixth-largest population of Jewish people in the world. While Perón clearly sympathized with Nazi Germany, he also sympathized with the Jews. Also, it seems that a big motivation for Perón in inviting ex-Nazis to Argentina was that he hoped to acquire from them German technology that had been developed during the war. It wasn’t, or wasn’t only, that he wanted to protect the ex-Nazis from the consequences of their crimes.

But what about the present day. Might there be ex-Nazis still alive and living in Argentina today? Could you see one on the street of Buenos Aires? It seems unlikely. After all, someone who was 35 in 1940 would be 105 this year (2010) and probably would have died of natural causes. However, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (which is dedicated to tracking down escaped war criminals) believes that potentially dozens of lower-level Nazi war criminals – who would have been younger than their superiors – might still be alive. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has launched an operation called ‘Operation Last Chance,’ which is a final effort at finding and bringing to trial as many ex-Nazis as possible before they die of old age.

30 Comments on “Nazis & Argentina: a History Lesson”

  1. Andi

    WOW!!! I had no idea about Argentina’s history with the Nazi’s. I don’t even know what to say!

  2. Christi

    There’s an awesome documentary called My Enemy’s Enemy about Klaus Barbie and his gang, and their attempt to establish the Fourth Reich in South America after they fled Europe. Apparently the United States and the papacy gave financial support to the Fourth Reich on the basis that it was an anti-Communist organization. Egads!

  3. Allison

    Its very interesting that both the Nazis and the Jews fled to Argentina after World War II. And for someone like Peron who is so well regarded and loved to have sympathized so much with the Nazi’s.

  4. Marti

    Interesting information but it is important to know that (what is shown in the documentary)Vatican city,United States and some other goverments helped into the process of transporting them to Argentina and it remained confidential until this documentary.

  5. Ryan

    Great article. I had heard a little bit about this, but never knew the details. Thanks for pulling it together.

    I’ve also heard that the primary destination for them was Bariloche… true?

  6. Luciano

    There is some missing information that I would like to add. First of all, even the Jewish organazations in Argentina differ in the number of Jewish people. The most conservative organazations say 230.000 the more liberals say 1 million. So, if we have to take an average, it would be reasonable to say that between 1,5 and 2 percent of the population of Argentina is Jewish, so it´s the same percentage than USA. The same with inmigration, we have to analyze the ethnics of the population to get the percentage, not the total number of inmigrants because it´s impossible to compare two countries just with nominal numbers.
    As regards, Peron, if he would be a Nazi or would be the responsable for protecting Nazis, the first President of Isreel would visit Argentina -one of the first countries in the world to recognize Israel under the Peronist government- and would be received by Peron with honours?? I don´t think so.
    Argentina was neutral in the war exporting to both sides (but much more to England) before Peron had a little bit of power. The same happened in the first world war. Argentina has the first Italian community in the world…which was Germany´s sister in the second war. To analyze history, we have to go back to those years, and not feel something in the present to reorganize the history. Just wanted to point another view. By the way, I´m Jewish 🙂

  7. ana

    Gracias Luciano, sumamaente interesante y parece mas cercano a lo que ocurrio realmente.

  8. Majo

    Im from argentina and i have a few anectdotes about it
    A teacher from my college told me she had a teacher who was a jew who survived a concentration camp and scape to argentina, and ten years after she moved, she saw on the street the man who used to torture her. This was long ago.
    My best friend in highschool had a grandfather who used to drive a german tank. But he was forced to and maneged to scape to argentina with the poland woman he loved, who ended up to be my friends grandmother.
    And a friend of mine once told me about a small town that was founded by 2 nazi familys that “procreated” with one another because they wanted to remain “pure” so they ended up comiting incest and because of that the last generation of them suffer from horrible deformations. But im not sure on this last story, is more like an urban legend

  9. Sergio

    Are you an American? It would be more objective from your part to mention how the US not only protected Nazis after the war, but also employed them, either as spies against the Russians during the Clod War, but also, officially, working for the US government, such as it is the case of Herbert Von Braun, a war criminal responsible with the deaths of tenth of thousands British citizens by his creation of rockets/missiles launched from German land. He was employed by NASA in the development of the US space program.

  10. Tim Gringo in BA

    Hi Sergio, the article isn’t about the US or Nazi’s in general after the war, its about Nazis and Argentina. So that is not relevant. But yes, no doubt the US is guilty of those things.

  11. Ana O'Reilly

    In an English pub, someone (who was a little drunk and a lot ignorant) once called a Nazi just because I’m Argentinean and blonde. I was gobsmacked.

  12. Don Emory

    the US helped nazi criminals also one of the built nasa another helped build the a-bomb we stole all of it from germany even the stealth bomber “horton bomber”

  13. Ravank

    Thank you D-Emory for that vital piece of information. The Holocaust was an event, particularly since it happenned within it’s own race (religion voided), but not as huge as the holocausts caused by global capitalisms indigineous populations throughout the world, particularly in Kenya and of course all of South America. I’d be impressed by an organisation that went after (say) these modern-day corporate Nazy’s, especially since many of the corporations that are doing all the cleansing are neatly nestled right here in the USA.

  14. Steve Knight

    Don Emory says:
    September 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    the US helped nazi criminals also one of the built nasa another helped build the a-bomb


    Yeaaaaaaaaahhhh. Sorry, that’s a bit misleading. Britain “gave” you all its nuclear program and scientists. Long after we’d stopped the German programs. Germans were closer to having a working one than we Brits were, but we were years ahead of the American program, until we “gave” them our research and scientists.

  15. Jaundiced Eye

    Sorry Steve, you’ve got the history of the development of the fission bomb incorrect, overemphasizing the role of British, of course, but have fun with your “British” chauvinism. Neither Enrico Fermi nor Leo Szilard were British. One was an Italian who immigrated directly to the U.S. after receiving the Noble Prize for Physics, and the other was a Hungarian who did some work in Britain briefly, and then also accepted a job with the Manhattan project. Robert Oppenheimer who directed the program that user their research and built the industrial techniques that later led to the Atomic bombs was an American-born Jew. So, I’m having trouble discerning where Britain played the chief role in developing the U.S. Nuclear program, or where Britain “gave” the U.S. its nuclear scientists. None of these were ever part of any “British” nuclear program that was supposedly “far ahead of the Americans.” But knock yourself out with revisionist history. Your arrogance is matched only by your ignorance.

    This should help you educate yourself:

  16. Aldana

    I knew about Nazis fleeing to Argentina but I didn’t know the whole story that Argentina supported Nazi Germany at the time. very interesting article. thanks for sharing!!! =)

  17. John

    jaundiced eye ,just checked wiki and it also says the British worked first alone on project TUBE ALLOYS before joining the tri-national project MANHATTAN ,thought i would let you know ,maybe you missed that bit.

  18. Travis

    Thanks for the good post.

    Argentina seems have this reputation as “the place where NAZIs went” after the war, which is an oversimplification at best. I also think it’s helpful to know that AR had an open immigration policy over the years, to many kinds of people, which adds some perspective.

  19. Kaitlin at

    Thanks for revisiting this interesting aspect of Argentina’s post-war history. I knew that many Nazis – as well as other bandits and runaways like Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid – hid out in Argentina and Bolivia. But I didn’t realize that Argentina’s open immigration policy, and Peron’s eagerness to ally with Germany led to so many Nazis immigrating to Argentina!

  20. RICO

    You should also remember the formation of “Junta de Recuperación de las Malvinas” in 1939. This was a group of private individuals and military officers many of whom sympathised with Hitler and Mousollini and hoped to divert British military assets from the struggle in Europe to the South Atlantic. Amoungst other things they were responsible for creating a lot of Anti-British propaganda and writing “Marcha de las Malvinas”. Many of the ideas and lies of this Nazi group continue to influence Argentinian policy towards Britain today.

  21. Raul

    Thanks for this post.
    Millions of people migrated to Argentina from Europe at the turn of the century. Many of them Germans. Most Germans in Argentina are not Nazis. One of the reasons so many Nazis went there was because they could blend in, particularly in communities and towns that were built by German immigrants.

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  23. Marcus Green

    I am convinced Peron did it purely for the money. The 10.000 blank entry passes he sold, and 3/4 from the 2.77 billion Bormann had to spend.


  24. Will

    It’s such a shameful part of Argentina’s past, but it’s great to see that people are still trying to bring some of these criminals to justice.

    A lot of places in South America (especially Brazil) allowed a large amount of Nazi-immigration.

  25. Gene

    I suggest you all read Uki Goñi’s book The Real Odessa,La auténticaa Odessa, to get 6 years of research into the subject of Nazis in Argentina. The blog itself is quite inaccurate.

  26. jorge

    Hi, I will have to deeply disagree with you in one aspect.
    There is no record of Peron being sympathetic to the NAZI CAUSE. What Peron had, and openly confessed was his admiration to Mussolini. First because he was a military in training, and second because he has been close to Mussolini during a study stay in Italy before the war or any of these historical events.
    Doesn’t make it necessary make him better or worse, but it is just how historically accurate it is.

  27. silvia g,

    Correction: Klaus Barbie did not go to Argentina. In 1947, Barbie was recruited as an agent for the 66th Detachment of the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps (U.S.) Josef Mengele went to Argentina, then Paraguay, then Brazil where he died. Wernher Von Braun, Third Reich, nazi, membership card # 5.738.692, went to the U.S.A. along with a slew of nazi technicians and scientists. Biography available in Google. John Demjanjuk, Ukranian naturalized American, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and deported to Israel in 1986 to face trial. So it was not Argentina the great receptor of nazis. Adolf Eichman was kidnapped and smuggled out of Argentina because there was no evidence to substantiate an extradition.

  28. SAM

    Seriously? People didn’t know about the Nazi connection with Argentina until 2010? Did everyone miss The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth in 1972?

    Not all Nazis were butchers and criminals, many were party members out of expediency. Some bad people did escape justice, but a lot were brought to justice. Many who fled to Argentina were good people fleeing the Nazis as much as they were fleeing the allies.

    It is horrible that the U.S. and West Germany made deals with Klaus Barbie, but by 1947 the Russians were obviously a huge danger and people like Barbie and the Gehlen Organization were vital to keep the Soviets in check.

    And Wernher Von Braun wasn’t a war criminal because he developed rockets any more than Allan Loughead and Jack Northrop were because they developed airplanes.

    The atomic bomb was born at Columbia University and Berkeley. Britain made minor contributions and could have made a bigger one except a bit of arrogance early on caused the U.S. to forge ahead without them.

    All of the great hindsight 65 years after the war is rather disingenuous. You have to judge them by what they knew at the time and what was more important at the time.

    Juan Peron was an opportunist, a deeply flawed man, but not especially bad. He was a man of the times and what they were.

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