Once-Secret Police Files Flesh Out Nazi History in Argentina
Feb. 10, 1992
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Legend has it that the Nazis who fled here after World War II arrived with plenty of cash and moved about freely because the government sheltered them and Argentines didn't know or didn't care.
A different picture emerged Monday when decades-old Federal Police files were opened to the public for the first time at the National Archives.
They showed how Josef Mengele, Eduard Roschmann, Walter Kutschmann and others of similar notoriety sneaked past immigration officials using false names or passports. Some held ordinary jobs; Kutschmann apparently drove a cab at one point. Josef Schwammberger toiled at a petrochemical plant.
While not pursued for years, the accused and convicted war criminals - some of whom, like Mengele and Schwammberger, lived openly under their own names - were never sure they had eluded justice.
Adolf Eichmann, the architect of Adolf Hitler's ''final solution'' to exterminate the Jews of Europe, was kidnapped by Israeli agents in 1960, tried there, convicted and hanged.
Seventeen years later, Roschmann slipped over the border to Paraguay to evade an arrest warrant. He died there three weeks later of a heart attack, though there was speculation he had been poisoned. Roschmann was an SS captain accused of killing tens of thousands of Jews at labor camps in Latvia.
Kutschmann, wanted in connection with the deaths of 1,500 Jews at a concentration camp in Poland, spent his last months in an Argentine jail and hospital, fighting extradition to Germany. He died in August 1986. The next year, Schwammberger, 78, was arrested. The concentration camp commander was extradited in 1990 and now is on trial in Stuttgart, Germany, for the deaths of more than 3,400 people in Poland during World War II. Some sought security by moving frequently. Mengele, the ''Angel of Death'' at the Auschwitz concentration camp, was a naturalized citizen of Argentina and Paraguay. He is thought to have drowned in Brazil in 1979.
There were no apparent bombshells in the newspaper clippings, old photographs, fingerprints, surveillance reports, Interpol requests and other data. The files covered five Nazis - Mengele, Roschmann, Kutschmann, Schwammberger and Martin Bormann, Hitler's No. 2.
There were even two files on Bormann, even though he probably died in Berlin in 1945 and never set foot in Argentina. News accounts had him hiding out as a priest in Bolivia, living in a remote section of Colombian jungle, and taking his ease in Argentina after paying $200 million for asylum.
''I did not see anything new,'' Nazi hunter Shimon Samuels, director of the Paris office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said last week after he was given special access to the files.
The files present only murky portraits of the men who ran the Third Reich or carried out its orders. There is little before 1961 on Mengele, for example, though he began using his real name in 1956 after arriving six years earlier on an International Red Cross passport under the name Gregor Helmut.
There is no file at all on Eichmann, who was here. Nor on Heinrich Muller, the former Gestapo chief who reportedly was. The Foreign Ministry said it may have Eichmann's, though so far it has not found it.
The police files raise as well as answer questions. There was an order to arrest Mengele in July 1961. It's unclear whether it was carried out; and if not, why not.
Kutschmann applied for a police certificate of good conduct so he could travel to the United States. It's unclear whether he went.
Significant information might be disclosed in coming weeks when the Central Bank, the Foreign and Interior ministries, the Immigration Department and other agencies turn over their files to the National Archives, as required by decree last week.
Samuels wants to track financial flows in the hope of finding Nazi wealth in numbered bank accounts in Switzerland. He also presented a list of 21 Nazis who apparently entered Argentina, disappeared and may still be alive.