Nazi gold 'shipped by U-boat to Argentina'

Hugh O'Shaughnessy
Sunday 07 November 2004 01:00
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Many millions of pounds of Nazi gold was sent across the Atlantic to the coast of Patagonia by submarine in the last days of the Second World War, according to a new and painstakingly researched Argentine documentary Oro Nazi en Argentina (Nazi Gold in Argentina). The funds went to finance major Nazi figures some of whom survive to this day, unashamed of their past.

Many millions of pounds of Nazi gold was sent across the Atlantic to the coast of Patagonia by submarine in the last days of the Second World War, according to a new and painstakingly researched Argentine documentary Oro Nazi en Argentina (Nazi Gold in Argentina). The funds went to finance major Nazi figures some of whom survive to this day, unashamed of their past.

The film received an enthusiastic reception at the recent Sao Paulo Film Festival and will be shown at the Brussels festival on Tuesday before going off to festivals in Spain and Cuba. Its creators hope to stage premieres in Argentina and the rest of the world early next year boosted by some international awards.

Years of research have unearthed much new evidence about the dispatch of vast wealth from Germany to the Argentina of Juan Peron as Hitler's regime tottered and fell. "We got great evidence from staff at the U-boat museum at Laboe on the Baltic near Kiel", said Daniel Botti, who worked on the film. Aged Nazi survivors in South America had cheerfully recounted their experience to the film-makers, he added. "What they said was chilling." They include Wilfred von Oven, who had worked with Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief, and wrote for German-language newspapers in Argentina.

Six decades after the events portrayed, the film makes uncomfortable watching for many in Germany, Switzerland and Argentina itself, as well as the Vatican. Interviews and reconstructions were shot on location with advice from experts such as Jean Ziegler, the former university lecturer who has infuriated many Swiss with his criticisms of their banks' connections with the Nazis.

The film's producer, Rodolfo "Rolo" Pereyra, accuses Pope Pius XII of aiding the process and telling various senior clergy to collaborate with the organisers, notably Bishop Alois Hudal, an anti-semitic pro-Nazi who ran Santa Maria dell'Anima, the church of the German community in Rome, and Monsignor Krunoslav Draganovic. Draganovic was a Croat who ran the San Girolamo Institute in Rome where he hid associates of Ante Pavelic, the Nazi puppet who had ruled Croatia during that era.

According to British intelligence files available at the National Archives at Kew, Draganovic's institute specialised in forging documents for fascist Croats helping some 7,250 Ustashi on their way to Argentina in 1946-48. The charge was $1,000 per person, or $1,400 for VIPs. He himself signed a false Red Cross travel document issued in the name of Altmann which was given to Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo's "Butcher of Lyons". Barbie was later extradited from Bolivia to face justice in France.

In his book Peron y Los Alemanes (Peron and the Germans), the author Uki Goni recounts how Draganovic received Barbie from the hands of US intelligence agents at Genoa railway station and shepherded him on to an Argentine ship in March 1951. When Barbie asked why he was helping him to flee, Draganovic, who had aided Pavelic with ethnic cleansing operations in Croatia, replied: "We must preserve a sort of reserve off which we can feed in the future."

The Vatican has long been linked to the organisation which funnelled Nazis and their wealth to South America when Peron was running Argentina. Peron, who served as Argentina's military attaché in Rome before the Second World War, was an intense admirer of Benito Mussolini and encouraged Nazi immigration in the 1940s.

Peron employed Rodolfo Freude as head of information at the presidential palace. The son of a businessman and paymaster for the German spy network in Argentina, Freude had charge of the funds sent by submarine. He was helped by Werner Koennecke, who spied indiscriminately for the British, Germans and Argentines and who was married to Freude's sister Lily. Koennecke was arrested by the Argentine political police in 1944 but released after a few months on Peron's orders.

Antonio Caggiano, archbishop of the Argentine city of Rosario and later of Buenos Aires, is often named as a link in the chain which guided the fleeing Nazis to their new life as he helped to cement deals between Peron and those fleeing war crimes trials in Europe. Caggiano visited Pius XII in Rome in 1946 to collect his cardinal's red hat and was subsequently closely associated with Argentine military dictatorships.

But Rolo Pereyra himself will not be present to experience any more adulation or criticism from those whose actions figure in his work. The producer, still only in his early 50s, died suddenly late on Thursday in Buenos Aires, probably of a heart attack, as he was packing his bags for the flight to Europe.

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