[Paleopsych] NYT: Half-Century Later, a New Look at Argentine-Nazi Ties

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Half-Century Later, a New Look at Argentine-Nazi Ties


    BUENOS AIRES - That scores of fugitive Nazis found their way to
    Argentina after World War II, aided and abetted by Gen. Juan D. Perón,
    is no secret. But according to a book just published here that draws
    extensively on archival material only now being made available to
    researchers, his government also offered a haven for the profits of
    German companies that had been part of the Nazi war machine and whose
    assets the victorious Allies would otherwise have seized.

    In "The German Connection: The Laundering of Nazi Money in Argentina,"
    Gaby Weber, a German journalist, argues that the Perón dictatorship
    sponsored an operation to move illicitly obtained wealth to Argentina
    and then back to Germany. For nearly a decade, her book asserts,
    German-made cars, trucks, buses and even the machinery for entire
    factories flowed into Argentina, paid for with dollars that were then
    used to help finance the "German economic miracle."

    To the chagrin of Argentines who still revere him and his wife, Evita,
    the evidence she presents indicates that Perón and a few favorites
    around him also took a cut. But Ms. Weber, who has lived and worked in
    South America since the mid-1980's, said she was mainly interested in
    what she described as two parallel but complementary money streams to
    and from Germany, which were involved in and benefited from the

    "One must make a distinction between the Nazi Party organization and
    the companies, which had no interest in financing a Nazi resurgence,"
    she said in a recent interview here. "My focus is on the official
    Argentine government operation to help those companies launder their
    money, but a lot of Nazis also did it on their own, hoping to
    reconstruct the party" from their hiding places here.

    Ms. Weber's book, published in German and Spanish, is based in part on
    research in the corporate archives of Mercedes-Benz and on interviews
    with Argentines and Germans who took part in the scheme. But she also
    consulted government records of Germany, the United States and,
    particularly, Argentina, where she found transcripts of interrogations
    of participants after Perón's ouster in September 1955, and other
    official documents that until now were generally off-limits to

    According to the documents Ms. Weber cites, the laundering operation
    involved both the consistent overcharging for goods exported from
    Germany to Argentina and billing for nonexistent transactions. But the
    Argentine Central Bank also cooperated by permitting transactions to
    be conducted at an exchange rate unusually favorable to German

    "The German Connection" focuses largely on Mercedes-Benz, the
    automobile, bus and truck manufacturer that is today a unit of
    Daimler-Chrysler. But others offered by Ms. Weber as beneficiaries of
    the plan include German makers of electrical and railway equipment and
    other capital goods, as well as producers of items as varied as
    tractors and television sets.

    "It is impossible to calculate the exact amount of money laundered in
    Argentina between 1950 and 1955," Ms. Weber said. "But it probably
    corresponds to well over a billion dollars."

    According to Argentine documents seized after the overthrow of Perón,
    about half of one large shipment of Mercedes sedans to Argentina went
    directly to the president's office. Perón appears to have kept four
    cars himself, but sent the others to judges and prosecutors,
    politicians, journalists and others whose support he was seeking.

    Ms. Weber also found documentary evidence that in at least a couple of
    cases, entire factories were shipped to Argentina for reassembly here.
    Perón envisioned Argentina as an industrial power and apparently saw
    the importing of German equipment and experts as the best way to
    jump-start aircraft, chemical and other industries.

    "Most of the machinery came from Rotterdam, though we don't know how
    it got there," Ms. Weber said. She added that most of the equipment
    appeared to be German in origin, though some was probably looted from
    Czechoslovakia or other conquered East European nations.

    At one point, Ms. Weber also maintains, the Nazi Adolf Eichmann was
    hired, initially under his own name but later under an alias, at the
    Mercedes-Benz plant in the suburbs of the capital. In the interview,
    she suggested that Mr. Eichmann, abducted by Israel in 1960 and then
    tried and executed, might have functioned as a sort of paymaster,
    "financing the movement and flight to Argentina" of other fugitive

    Reached by telephone, a spokesman for Mercedes-Benz, Ursula Mertzig,
    acknowledged that Ms. Weber had been "given free entrance to our
    archives in Stuttgart and that we checked the names she gave us in our
    personnel data." But she described the book as "a very strange story"
    that lacked substantiation.

    "She has no proof of money laundering and there is no proof," Ms.
    Mertzig said. "We could find nothing that gives nourishment to her
    reproach. This is her idea of what history was, but it is not
    supported by other historians in Germany."

    The publication of Ms. Weber's book follows the release here late last
    year of a documentary film that caused debate on the same subject. The
    film, "Nazi Gold in Argentina," contends that Swiss banks, the Roman
    Catholic Church and Argentine politicians conspired to loot hundreds
    of millions of dollars in cash and other valuable assets held by the
    Third Reich.

    The film includes scenes of Nazi submarines filled with gold bars
    unloading their treasure on the deserted beaches of Patagonia, events
    that most experts dismiss as fanciful. But it also sheds light on the
    activities of shadowy figures like Hermann Dörge, a German banker who
    worked in Argentina's Central Bank during the 1940's and was
    officially declared to have committed suicide after destroying
    evidence of Nazi money transfers.

    In his book "The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Perón's
    Argentina," the Argentine writer Uki Goni documented how Croatian
    fascists allied with the Nazis shipped over 500 pounds of gold bars to
    Argentina after World War II. But he said that "regarding German or
    Austrian Nazi money after the war, the trail is more diffuse."

    During the war itself, "there is quite a lot of American documentation
    about how the Nazis laundered money, seized from the banks of
    conquered countries, in Argentina so they could buy raw supplies," Mr.
    Goni said in an interview. He added that he found it "fishy" that many
    Argentine Central Bank records from then and the postwar period were
    either incomplete or said to be destroyed.

    "I'm sure something happened, but the documents are still hidden," Mr.
    Goni said. "A tremendous amount of research still needs to be done,
    and the Argentine government needs to open up more records, especially
    those of state intelligence."

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