SUNS  4330 Tuesday 24 November 1998


Buenos Aires, Nov 19 (IPS/Viviana Alonso) -- A commission set up by the government of Argentina admitted that former president Juan Domingo Peron helped Nazi war criminals take refuge here after the fall of Adolph Hitler in Germany in 1945.

The Commission for the Clarification of Nazi Activities in Argentina (CEANA), created in May 1997 by President Carlos Menem with the aim of clarifying one of the most controversial aspects of Argentine history, found that Peron was even more involved than previously believed in removing hurdles to the entry of war criminals from Europe.

CEANA research coordinator Ignacio Klich cited documents which show that Peron participated in meetings, held in the seat of government in the late 1940s, to discuss the creation of a network for bringing in refugees - mainly Nazis - in the wake of World War II (1939-1945).

According to Klich, Belgian fascist Pierre Daye - who advised Peron on an informal basis during that period - kept written records, which were uncovered by the CEANA investigators. But, explained Klich, the documents found did not contain the names of the war criminals given refuge in Argentina in the post-war period, nor did they provide details on the number of Nazis involved.

Peron was elected president in 1946. He was reelected in 1952, but overthrown by a coup three years later. After 17 years in exile, he returned to Argentina in 1972, and won the presidency again a year later. He died in office on 1 July 1974.

CEANA, which met Monday through Wednesday, presented its preliminary findings after the three-day meeting. The final report is slated to be released late next year.

Although CEANA - comprised of prominent experts in history, law, ethics and philosophy from several countries - was created by an executive decree, it is not governmental in character. The Commission's structure also includes an advisory committee made up of nine national and international institutions - among them the Wiesenthal Centre, B'nai B'rith and the Jewish-American Congress - as well as an academic committee in charge of data compilation and research.

The Commission was set up to determine the number of war criminals given refuge in Argentina, and the assets that were brought here after being stolen from the victims of the Nazis.

Since the start of his first presidential term in 1989, Menem has set out to demonstrate that the Argentina of today is not the post-war paradise for Nazis that a decades-old negative image of the country has painted.

In 1992, the president ordered the Federal Police to open their archives on the Nazis who came to Argentina in the postwar period. The archives of the Ministry of Foreign Relations were opened in 1993, and those of the Central Bank in 1996. CEANA was set up in 1997, and began to function in July of that year.

Foreign Minister Guido Di Tella announced this week that "a museum of the Holocaust" would be created in Buenos Aires.

After six months of work and having obtained access to documents in Argentina, Europe and the United States, the investigators announced early this year that many Nazi war criminals had entered Argentina with passports of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

But although the researchers laid the blame on Peron and his wife Eva Duarte de Peron - two of the most prominent public figures in 20th century Argentina - for having protected Nazis, they also clarified that the data compiled indicated the existence of a well-organised network.

Klich said the Buenos Aires connection between that organisation and immigration authorities was Carlos Fuldner, a German-Argentinean who had worked as a German spy in Europe.

Fuldner returned to Argentina after the war and began to work in the immigration office. From there he organised several trips to Europe to bring back immigrants.

"It was Fuldner who gave Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann his first job in Argentina," said Klich.

Eichmann, responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of eastern European Jews, lived in hiding in Argentina until 1960, when he was abducted by an Israeli commando and taken to Israel. After a widely publicised trial there, he was sentenced to death and executed.