Peronism and Nazi Germany - II
Part 2: The Nazi legacy of the Argentine secret service and prominent Nazis in Argentina
The creation of the CIDE, or Argentine secret police
One of the well known Nazi collaborators took advantage of the save haven provided by Perón and fled to Argentina after escaping from his captivity.
Dries Riphagen aided the Nazis in The Netherlands and was directly responsible for sending 200+ Jews to their deaths.
He met the Presidential couple and maintained contact with Perón till his death. He settled in the Belgrano neighborhood of Buenos Aires, where he maintained a photography press office.
Riphagen was actively involved in the creation of the Argentine secret service, called CIDE (now called SIDE), created by Perón in 1946. He worked for Perón's secret service as an anti-communist tactics instructor, passing on whatever expertise he had gained while working for Germany during the war.
Argentina never handed him over to the Netherlands because of his close ties high up in the local power circles. He was acquaintances with Rodolfo Valenzuela, a member of Argentina's Supreme Court who also served as President Juan Perón's secretary.
Autist note: This is a great series about Riphagen available on Netflix.
Argentina’s Nazis after Peron
Perón had to flee Argentina in 1955 after his second government was overthrown in another coup d'etat, the ones Perón himself was pretty familiar with since the start of his political career.
He went into exile in Franco's Spain, and he would not return to Argentina until nearly 20 years later. This abrupt, fundamental upheaval in Argentine politics alarmed many of the Nazis who were hiding out in the country because they couldn't be sure that new governments, particularly a civilian one, would protect them as Perón had — Riphagen for example, followed Perón’s footsteps and also exiled in Spain.
Even though the pro-nazi friends still had a lot of influence in Argentina, they had a reason to be worried.
Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped from a Buenos Aires street by Mossad agents and brought to Israel to stand trial in 1960. This kidnapping was far from easy however, and in no way did the Argentine government allow this to happen.
A recommended film about this Mossad kidnapping of Eichmann in Argentina is Operation Finale (2021), with an excellent interpretation of Eichmann from Ben Kingsley (available on Netflix). It clearly shows how much power these old nazi’s still had in Argentine society even up to 1960.
The Argentine government complained to the UN, but it was already too late for Eichmann.
A few years later, Argentina extradited Gerhard Bohne to Germany in 1966, making him the first Nazi war criminal formally returned to Europe to face prosecution; others such as Erich Priebke and Josef Schwammberger would follow in the following decades.
Many Argentine Nazis, notably Josef Mengele, moved to more lawless areas after Perón was exiled, such as Paraguay's jungles or remote sections of Brazil.
Peron’s comeback and the Triple A
After almost 20 years in exile in Spain, Perón came back to Argentina and was elected president, with his second wife Isabelita as vice president, in 1973.
One of the anticommunist groups that got the green light from the CIA during its Operation Condor, was the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (AAA), also known as Triple A.
This parapolice group in Argentina was created by a sector of Peronism, trade unionism, the Federal Police and the Argentine Armed Forces during the final government of Perón.
By now it’s probably cleat that Perón loved covert organizations, and after having created the Argentine secret services with fine members such as Riphagen, something more was needed to fight the threat of communist guerrilla groups in the chaotic Argentina of the 70s.
Perón died in 1974 after only one year of government, with his second wife María Estela Martínez de Perón (who was Vice President for his administration) becoming his successor. Argentina has never been shy about nepotism.
During the presidencies of Juan Domingo Perón and María Estela Martínez de Perón (1973 and 1976), the Triple A assassinated artists, priests and religious, intellectuals, left-wing politicians, students, historians and trade unionists, in addition to using threats, summary executions and the forced disappearance of people as methods.
On March 24, 1976, María Estela Martínez de Perón, who had little control over her administration, was overthrown by a military coup d’etat.
After Videla’s coup d’etat, Perón’s second wife exiled to Spain, where she still lives (now aged 91). She never returned to Argentina and refuses to speak about the Triple A or about her short-lived presidency in general.
The military dictatorship (1976-1983) led by Videla was very grateful to find all the clandestine torture centers set up by the Triple A under Perón, and was sure to put them to full use.
Official numbers of desaparecidos during this military dictatorship range from 9,000 to 30,000 and it is yet another very dark period that Argentina still deals with up until today.
One thing few defenders of modern day Peronism seem to care about, is the fact that the Triple A under Perón was doing the exact same things as the military junta, albeit at a smaller scale. 1
Some prominent Nazis that used the Argentina ratline
According to Argentine historians Ignacio Klich and Cristian Buchrucker, among the 180 war criminals who arrived at the port of Buenos Aires were the Belarusian, Croatian and Slovak equivalents of Hitler, namely Radislaw Ostrowsky, Ante Pavelic and Ferdinand Durcansky.
These folks were some real pieces of work, and if you check their bios in the links, it is just incredible that these people were given sanctuary by Perón. Really shows you that at the time, and still up until today compared to many other countries, “anything goes” in Argentina.
The most emblematic example of the Nazi “refugees” is Adolf Eichmann who we discussed earlier, the Nazi bureaucrat who was the efficient organizer of the train network that carried six million Jews to death camps during Hitler’s Final Solution.
Probably the second most famous Nazi was the “Angel of Death”, Josef Mengele. He escaped to Argentina in 1949 using one of the ratlines and entered the country under a false name.
Mengele resided in Argentina for ten years, the last of which he used his real name, before moving to Paraguay and eventually to Brazil, where he died of a stroke while swimming on a beach in 1979.
When Perón was asked in an interview with the Argentine journalist Tomás Eloy Martínez if he could remember Mengele, he said: "He was one of those well planted, cultivated Bavarians, proud of his land. Wait... Gregor was his name, if I'm not mistaken. That's all I remember. Dr. Gregor."2 Mengele entered Argentina using the name Helmut Gregor on his passport.
Another murderer welcomed by Perón was Josef Schwammberger, who lived in Argentina under his own name from 1948 to 1990, when he was extradited to Germany and convicted of organizing the deaths of at least 500 prisoners and a rabbi in concentration camps in Poland. His driver testified at trial that Schwammberger used his gun many times to murder groups of Jews.
Captain Erich Priebke, who participated in the massacre of the Ardeatine pits in Rome in which 335 Italian civilians were murdered, including 75 Roman Jews, lived in Bariloche without hiding for almost half a century until he was discovered in the 1990s by a television crew from ABC News and was extradited to Italy.
Reinhard Spitzy, an Austrian, served as an SS Hauptsturmführer and then as the personal aide for Chancellor Ribbentrop. He was on the allies' most wanted list at the end of the war, but he managed to hide in monasteries in Spain, and in 1948, an Argentine colonel close to Perón arranged for him and his family to move to Argentina. Here in Argentina he was employed as a Coca-Cola distributor in the province of Entre Ríos.
And the list could go on for a lot longer, but those are some of the most infamous cases. What really boggles the mind is the fact that these people were able to live out their lives in relative calm (except for a few big cases), while many people were aware of their background and in some cases they even lived under their real names.
Aftermath of the Nazi legacy
These Nazi refugees most likely harmed Argentina rather than helped it in the long term. The majority of them tried to integrate into Argentina's German population, and the wise ones kept their heads down and never touched on their obscure past in Europe.
Many went on to become active members of Argentine society, albeit not in the way that Perón had envisioned, as advisors assisting Argentina's emergence to a new stature as a significant world power. The best of them succeeded in subtle ways and remained off the radar.
The fact that Argentina enabled so many war criminals to escape prosecution, and also to go to considerable lengths to bring them over, is still a stain on the country's history, and it also fuelled many conspiracy theories3. And as we have seen, Perón also indirectly influenced a very dark period during the latest military dictatorship.
Today, most Argentines are ashamed of their country's part in harboring criminals such as Eichmann and Mengele. Every now and again, they are once again reminded of that part of the past, with regular discoveries of nazi artefacts in Argentina:
Argentina and Peronism today
If you want to make an attempt at understanding the grip that “Peronism” still holds on Argentine politics up until this day, just imagine for a second that a current generation of Italian teenagers is marching through the streets in Rome, while chanting “We’re all Mussolini’s soldiers”. That is basically what is still going on in Argentina, you only have to swap out Mussolini for Perón.
The main government party is peronista, and Perón has never become a controversial figure like many of his European fascist buddies, which is extraordinary to say the least.
The focus when talking about the General or his first wife (Evita), is always around his social policies and Mussolini-inspired labor laws, which admittedly were very revolutionary for the time in terms of worker rights, paid leave, etc.
However, Nazi criminals are never mentioned by hardcore Peronists. At most that part of Perón’s legacy is brushed off as not important in the broader picture of what he did for the country.
There has also been a concerted effort by Perón supporters over the years to “sever” his Nazi ties, by producing articles like the “myth of Perón being a fascist”.
These articles pop up every now and again in mainstream media outlets, while at the same time miraculously failing to mention a single word about his Nazi refugee aid or the creation of the Triple A).
The Triple A is usually treated as an independent subgroup within the government that came to power under the government of Perón’s second wife, after his death, without him having much to do with the creation (which is completely false). It is true that Isabelita was not able to control the Triple A once Perón passed away.
To be fair, Peronism today is something completely different and more comparable to a central-left socialist movement than a fascist movement, but that doesn’t change the roots of the movement, or the roots of its eponymous founder.
With regards to anti-semitism in Argentina, it is good to see that has not persisted in any meaningful way. Even though in the past prominent anti-Semites like Santiago Peralta4 (Peron's Director of Immigration after he became president in 1946) produced entire books about the threat that Jews posed to society, nowadays Argentina is the 6th country with the biggest Jewish community outside of Israel.
This was a very deep and interesting rabbit hole to investigate. I was particularly blown away by the organizational structure of the rat lines and the secret SS agreements. Might try to get my hands on some official historical documents here in Buenos Aires.
See you in the jungle, frens!
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Translation from original: "¿Quién sabe? Era uno de esos bávaros bien plantados, cultos, orgullosos de su tierra. Espere... Si no me equivoco, se llamaba Gregor. Eso es, el doctor Gregor". More about the Perón interview here.
One of the most famous conspiracy theories is that Hitler did not die in his bunker, but was able to escape to Argentina.