Bariloche opposes Nazism
The Aspen Jewish community’s opposition to the Sister City agreement with Bariloche made the news because of Bariloche’s alleged support of Nazism.
It is true that many Nazis chose Bariloche to hide because it was very near Chile, and because it was a safe place as in those years getting here was not easy.
Rats always hide where it’s difficult to find them, but the owners of the place can’t be blamed for it.
During the years following WWII and the Holocaust, Peron’s government helped many criminal Nazis to settle in Argentina. The argument about the causes – whether it was for economic or political reasons – is still going on. I think that both apply.
As an Argentine and Bariloche Jew I am compelled to tell the events we lived through exactly 10 years ago after it was discovered that the Nazi murderer Erich Priebke lived among us.
I was at that time the vice president of the local Jewish community, and because of this event I was appointed the local representative of the Association of Jewish Organizations in Argentina – “Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas de Argentina (DAIA) – the organization that holds the political representation of Jews in my country. DAIA’s main mission is to fight against discrimination.
After this story became known we received the support and help of all human rights organizations as well as an enormous number of citizens, several of which were of German descent. All of them clearly expressed their annoyance because that criminal had enjoyed 50 years of undeserved freedom.
A small group supported, as well, the view that after 50 years of good behavior in Argentina this man should not be disturbed for things that had happened in the past. This was known as the “good neighbor” theory, whereby if he did nothing wrong here, what he did before is unimportant.
Although this was a minority, and their statement was published in a publication that was distributed freely – something that in my opinion they could not have done in any other way – the damage was enormous. Domestic and international papers reported that a group of Bariloche citizens was defending a Nazi.
The “good neighbor” theory is still used today as an example of the hypocrisy and the little interest that some people have in justice.
The courts did not agree with them. As the statutes of limitations do not apply for crimes against humanity, Priebke was extradited and tried in Italy, where he was convicted and jailed for life.
All of the 335 individuals – most of them non-Jews – murdered in the Ardeatine Caves were Italian. The Italian community of Bariloche took the issue in that spirit, and we all did all we could to facilitate Priebke’s expulsion.
The Bariloche Town Council declared that Priebke was “persona non grata” and that Nazism was a shame for humankind.
Germany’s honorary consul in Bariloche made similar statements during the celebration of Germany’s reunification.
We were honored by the visit of relatives of victims of that mass killing; they spoke at the local university and at the Dante Alighieri Institute, where they were heard with respect and received the solidarity of thousands of Bariloche citizens.
The issue came back to light this year with the publication of a book named “Nazi Guide.” This is little more than a tourist guide about the places where various Nazis had their homes or businesses.
I was pleased with the publication of this book and the scandal that surrounded it.
The book does not praise the Nazi regime. It is a piece of research on those who lived here and where they were. Although the book can be argued for many reasons, it was done in good faith.
However, we cannot tolerate that the Shoah (Holocaust) should be forgotten, and we cannot allow that those Nazi criminals who are still alive to do so peacefully. The book is an important contribution to this end.
I think that all this absolutely denies any suspicion about the possibility that this town is a haven for fascists or Nazi murderers.
Only truth makes us free – this is my truth.
I am deeply thankful for the concern of my double brothers – as Jews and Aspen citizens – about the conditions of tolerance and respect in my town. All that is told here can be confirmed in the newspapers from April 1994 onwards.
Daniel Reisfeld is a resident of Bariloche, Argentina.