By MARK FALCOFF
For another, Goni establishes without doubt that there was an Argentine-German conspiracy to detach neighboring countries from their sympathetic posture toward the Allied cause. This conspiracy reached its maximum point of success in Bolivia, where a regime friendly to the U. S. was ousted by a military coup in 1943. Argentina was also active (if less successfully) in Brazil, Paraguay and Chile. Goni demonstrates that operatives of Heinrich Himmler's Sicherheitdienst, or SD, the political-espionage service of the Nazi Party, moved without difficulty throughout Argentina for the entire war. In spite of an Argentine parliamentary commission on un-Argentine activities and a special office of the Federal Police deputed to prosecute such agents of espionage, Himmler's operatives were rarely disturbed, and after they were finally jailed at the end of the war, they were released as soon as possible.As late as 1944, the Argentine military thought the Nazis were going to win the war, and during the first months of 1945 tried to act as if they had. Having bet on the wrong horse, Peron and his associates--far from reproaching themselves for their bad judgment, or at least striving to correct it--closed ranks and came to the rescue of some of the most unsavory figures to escape Allied justice in liberated Europe.
After 1945, the Argentine consulate in Barcelona became a distribution point for false passports, which enabled literally hundreds if not thousands of Nazi functionaries to escape to Argentina, including the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. Eventually Argentina provided safe haven for such sinister personalities as Belgian Nazi collaborator Pierre Daye; Reinhard Spitzy, the Austrian representative of Skoda in Spain; Charles Lescat, former Vichy functionary and onetime editor of the scurrilous magazine Je Suis Partout; SS functionary Ludwig Lienhardt; German industrialist Ludwig Freude; SS functionary (for a time) Klaus Barbie, "the Butcher of Lyons"; Eichmann; and Eichmann's adjutant Franz Stangl. Argentina also became home to dozens of Croats, veterans of the bloodthirsty Ustashe, as well as the wartime Prime Minister of occupied Yugoslavia, Milan Stojadinovich.
Some of these people had an important afterlife in Peron's Argentina. Vichyite Frenchman Jacques de Mahieu drafted the doctrinal texts of Peron's movement and became an important ideological mentor to Roman Catholic nationalist youth groups in the 1960s. Daye became the editor of one of the official Peronist magazines; Freude's business ventures prospered, and his son Rodolfo was the chief of presidential intelligence during Peron's first presidency. In 1951 Stojadinovich founded one of Argentina's main business dailies, El Economista, which still carries his name on its masthead.
Many of these people also benefited from the clandestine assistance of the Vatican in making their escape from Europe to Argentina. The one question Goni's book cannot answer is why either the Catholic Church or the Peron regime felt so strongly about the need to provide succor and assistance to partisans of a lost (and, one would have thought, thoroughly discredited) cause. Money did have something to do with it. Argentine officials in Europe were known to sell passports for large sums. But there appears to have been a vague, confusing and still unexplained overlap between defeated Central European fascism, preconciliar Catholicism and nascent Peronism. A case in point is the career of a Croatian priest based in Rome, the Rev. Krunoslav Draganovic, who was deputed by Peron to facilitate the escape of hundreds of Nazis and their collaborators to South America, including the infamous Barbie. When the Butcher of Lyons asked the clergyman why he was going out of his way to help him, Draganovic merely replied, "We have to maintain a sort of moral reserve on which we can draw in the future." Thus the European fascist sensibility, if not precisely the fascist system, found new roots and new life in the South Atlantic region.
Mark Falcoff is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. His books include Prologue to Peron: Argentina in Depression and War, 1930-43.