BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- The Argentine authorities were either unwilling or unable to bring Nazi war criminals to justice even when they had them in custody, according to archives made public for the first time.
The archives on five Nazi war criminals that were made available by Argentina show a pattern that confirms what many have said for years, that war criminals found a safe haven here and that this country was proba
bly one of the easiest in which to disappear and escape justice.
Last week, President Carlos Menem ordered the files opened and gave government agencies 30 days to produce any they had on suspected war criminals who came to Argentina.
According to the documents released yesterday, Joseph Mengele, the Auschwitz death camp doctor known as the "Angel of Death" for his experiments on inmates, practiced medicine in Buenos Aires for several years in the 1950s. He "had a reputation as a specialist in abortions," which were illegal. When one young woman died from his treatment, he was taken before a Buenos Aires judge, who detained him only briefly.
The documents say a friend of Mengele's appeared in the courtroom with a "package presumably filled with a large amount of money." After two hours, he was let go.
Another Nazi war criminal, Walter Kutschmann, who was accused of killing 20 Polish university professors and their families, and who lived here under the name of Pedro Ricardo Olmo, appeared before a judge in Mar del Plata in the south of Buenos Aires Province. He denied the charges, maintained he was Pedro Olmo, and was released.
The files also tell how many of these fugitives emerged after a decade or so, trying either to obtain passports in their real names or seeking approval from the Argentine and German governments to travel.
Even when war criminals were identified by Nazi hunters or the German government requested their extradition, the Argentine authorities often took years to find them and take action on the requests.
In 1975, West Germany asked for the extradition of Kutschmann and he was identified within months with the help of Jewish groups in Argentina and abroad. He was living in the beach resort of Minamar. He went before a judge in 1983 but escaped. He was not caught until November 1985. He fell ill within months and died the following August while negotiations over his extradition were still in progress.
But Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler's top deputy, never made it to Argentina, files showed.