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Large number of Nazis relocated to S. America

Eben Harrell

Here is what we know about Bariloche’s Nazi past:

In the years following World War II, the government of Juan Peron, a known Nazi sympathizer, turned a blind eye to the numbers of Nazis entering Argentina. The so-called rat-line, a clandestine route used by Nazis to escape from Germany to South America, brought hundreds of war criminals into the country, where many became established members of their local communities.

Due to its similarity to Austrian alpine villages, the Andean town of Bariloche was a favorite spot for Nazis, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish rights organization named after the renowned Nazi-hunter.

The Wiesenthal Center confirmed that Joseph Schwammberger, commander of the Polish ghetto Przemysl, SS officer Erich Priebke and possibly even Joseph Mengele, the Auschwitz death camp doctor known as the “Angel of Death,” resided in or near the town.

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Longtime Bariloche resident and sister city official Nicolas Spagat told The Aspen Times last week that he remembered going to school with the children of Frederich Lantschner, the former Nazi governor of the Tyrol.

There are no high-ranking Nazis thought be living in Bariloche today.

Former SS officer Priebke, the only Nazi extradited from the town, lived in Bariloche under his real name. In 1996, Priebke was sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court for ordering the massacre of 335 Italians, including 75 Jews.

Priebke was arrested in 1994 after ABC News’ “Primetime” sent anchorman Sam Donaldson to interview him.

In a 1996 interview for the Academy of Achievement museum, Donaldson said the program that led to Priebke’s capture was his “greatest achievement” as a journalist.

“In 1994, I went down to Bariloche, Argentina. And I encountered an 80-year-old man that I knew was going to be walking down a street at a certain hour, with two cameras to talk to him. ‘Erich Priebke? You were the No. 2 Gestapo chief in Rome in World War II?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ he said. … I thought I was in the movies. Priebke deported six to seven thousand Jews to their deaths in the death camps. There he was, living under his own name, a pillar of the community in Bariloche,” Donaldson remembered.

Priebke was arrested by the Italian government shortly after the “Primetime” interview and sentenced to life in prison. At the time, he was a delicatessen owner and principal of a local German school in Bariloche.

Priebke is still remembered with affection by some Bariloche residents. Cecilia Maahs, a former neighbor of Priebke’s, told The Aspen Times on Thursday that Priebke was beloved by the town’s population.

“He was well-respected by the people. He was very correct. People loved him a lot here. He was very open, he didn’t hide anything … he said he had been in Italy. We were shocked when he was arrested. I don’t think feelings changed for him,” Maahs said through an interpreter.

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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