Holocaust-Era Assets

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State Department and Foreign Affairs Records

Records of the Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State (RG 84)

Argentina

When war broke out in Europe in 1939, there was a very large German population in Argentina. Some 60,000 of them belonged to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, an organization of Germans living abroad.  This organization controlled shipping lines, a special news service, and other entities in Argentina.  Germans also had a great economic influence in Argentina, controlling a considerable part of the nation's industrial, chemical, pharmaceutical, and electrical goods production, and having a large part of the military and civilian construction.

German financial activities in Argentina centered around two large banks, Banco Aleman Transatlantico and Banco Germanico de la America del Sud.  They were also involved in holding companies, organized in 1939 by Johann Wehrli & Company of Zurich, Switzerland. These companies maintained secret numbered accounts that were owned by Germans.  The Germans also had insurance firms in Argentina, as well as being deeply involved in metallurgy, arms, and munitions.

Thus, it is not surprising that Argentina pursued a neutral policy after the United States entered the war in December 1941. It failed to induce Chile, Paraguay, and Peru, to form a neutral bloc. But it did continue to defy United States pressure to align itself with the Allies and ignored Allied recommendations and declarations to end all financial interaction, direct or indirect, with Nazi Germany.  The Allies became particularly concerned about the operation within Argentina of subsidiaries of Germany's leading firms, including I.G. Farben, Staudt and Co., and Siemens Schucket.  These firms maintained links with Germany throughout the war and supported major Nazi espionage operations in Latin America.

The Allied wartime blockade made it impossible for Argentina to provide substantial amounts of exports to Germany, which up until then had been one of its principal trading partners.  But Buenos Aires, however, was one of the principal Latin American ports from which goods valuable even in small quantities, such as platinum, palladium, drugs, and other chemicals, were smuggled to the Axis.

Argentina, it should be noted, despite it economic and financial dealings with Nazi Germany, also had close economic ties to the Allies.  Argentine exports to the United States and Great Britain (which depended on Argentine beef to help feed its population) rose dramatically during the war, essentially doubling their prewar volume.

A military coup d'etat in June 1943 and the uncovering of a Nazi espionage network, led Argentina to sever diplomatic relations with Germany and Japan on January 26, 1944.  However, Colonel Juan Peron led a palace revolt and a new president, General Edelmiro Farrell, was installed. This regime gave open support to Axis-controlled firms and tolerated the dissemination of Axis propaganda.   Believing the new Argentine government was pro-Axis, the United States refused to recognize the Farrell government and recalled its ambassador in July 1944. The next month the United States began an economic pressure campaign through the blocking of Argentine gold deposits in the United States. The Argentine Government responded, in part, by granting German construction companies very lucrative contracts between June and September 1944.

Nevertheless, economic sanctions and diplomatic pressures resulted in the Argentine Government in October 1944, establishing an administrative council to control Axis firms.  In November Axis bank and insurance companies were brought under Government supervision.  In March 1945, the Argentine Government announced that intervened Axis construction and industrial establishments and banks would be liquidated and the proceeds blocked in the Argentine Central bank.

Eventually, the United States took a more conciliatory line towards Argentina and as a result of the Mexico City Conference (February-March 1945) and the steps it took regarding Axis assets. The Argentine Government issued a decree in March 1945 stipulating that Axis-controlled firms would be placed under goverment control and possession, but delayed taking action for so long that the managers of these firms had ample time to distribute or dissipate their assets.

Argentina formally declared war on the Axis powers on March 27, 1945 and the United States recognized the new Argentine government on April 9, 1945.

Following the end of the war, the State Department prepared a compendium of information on Argentina's support for the Axis cause, the Argentine "Blue Book," for use in consulting with the American Republics concerning the position that should be taken with regard to the military regime in Buenos Aires. (Note 57)  The "Blue Book," published in February 1946, charged that where the German Government preferred to transfer from Europe, it found no serious obstacle in any Argentine exchange control regulations, and that the availability of these funds made possible the subversive activities in which German organizations were known to have engaged.  These activities included intervention in Argentine elections, press and propaganda subsidization, and purchase for shipment of strategic materials for the German war machine.  The "Blue Book" also sought to demonstrate the continuing potential for Argentina to become a base for a resurgent Nazism.  By the end of 1946, however, American relations with Argentina began to improve and the onset of the Cold War renewed American desire for hemispheric alignment, contributing to the improvement in U.S.-Argentine relations.

The Act of Chapultepec of 1945 recognized the right of each of the Republics of the Western Hemisphere, including the United States, to dispose of Germany property within its own respective jurisdiction and retain the proceeds.  Since the Farrell regime adopted the Chapultepec agreement when it finally declared war on the Axis at the end of March 1945, the Allies could not lawfully law claim to an estimated $200 million in German assets in Argentina.

Thus, the United States undertook no negotiations with the Argentine government regarding the identification and disposition of German external assets.  The policy of the United States was to establish more friendly relations with Argentina following the criticisms contained in the State Department "Blue Book" on Argentina in early 1946.  Argentina had resisted wartime Allied entreaties to freeze German assets and, by the end of 1947, American officials concluded that German assets were not identifiable by the Argentine government and no looted gold had reach Argentina.

After the war Argentina became a refuge for escaping Nazis, such as Adolf Eichmann, and those that had collaborated with them, such as Ante Pavelic. (Note 58)  It should be noted that Argentina also received some 25,000 to 45,000 Jewish refugees between 1933 and 1945.  These number were higher than any other country in the Western Hemisphere, including the United States.

Records of the U.S. Embassy, Buenos Aires, Argentina

General Records 1936-1952 (Entry 2023)


Boxes 1-232

1940

Box #File #File Title or Subject
72711.1Neutrality, Neutrals
 711.2Neutral Commerce
 800Political Situation in Argentina
82851.6Banks and Banking

1941

Box #File #File Title or Subject
91-92631Trade Relations
93711.1 Neutrals
 711.2 Neutral Commerce
 711.3 Proclaimed List

1942

Box #File #File Title or Subject
108-109 631 Trade Relations
112 711.1 Neutrals
 711.2 Neutral Commerce (2 folders)
 711.3 Trading With Enemy, Frozen Funds, etc. (3 folders)
122 851.6 Banks and Banking (3 folders)

1943

Box #File #File Title or Subject
131 631Trade Relations (2 folders)
133 711Chile's Relations with the Axis Countries
 711.2Neutral Commerce
141-142 851.6Banks and Banking

1944

Box #File #File Title or Subject
149 631Trade Relations
151 710Argentine Break of Relations with Spain and Germany and the Satellite Countries
160 851.6Banks and Banking

1945

Box #File #File Title or Subject
171 820.02German Vessels in Neutral Ports

Classified General Records (Confidential File) 1936-1952 (Entry 2024)
Boxes 1-147
1946 (Box 87, File 851) Review of Economic War Activities in Argentina May 22, 1946

Top Secret File 1949 (Entry 2025)
Box 1

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