The Associated Press
May 1, 2001

Venezuela Shocked by Nazi Accusation


              CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuela has always prided itself on being
              unsullied by South America's reputation as a haven for fugitive Nazis, so a claim that
              it is harboring 18 Nazi collaborators has shocked the nation.

              The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Nazi-hunting organization, has
              asked the Venezuelan government to help track down the 18 alleged collaborators.
              It says they include a prominent retired businessman from Estonia.

              ``Many Jews saved their lives coming here. We are profoundly grateful to this land
              that has offered us refuge,'' said Isabel Cohen, 61, a Spanish Jew who fled to
              Venezuela in 1942. ``That's why we are very upset by this news. We are shaken by
              the very thought that this oasis of peace could be stained by the presence of war

              South America was a popular destination for Nazis fleeing arrest after World War
              II. Prominent among them were Adolf Eichmann, a senior officer in the Nazi
              extermination system who lived in Argentina until Israel abducted him in 1960; Klaus
              Barbie, a Gestapo chief deported to France in 1987 from Bolivia; and Josef
              Mengele, the murderous Auschwitz camp doctor who died in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in

              The Wiesenthal Center doesn't know exactly how many former Nazis and
              collaborators are living in South America today, but says it fears many have already
              died in freedom.

              ``Time is against us. Time is working to allow these assassins to die in liberty,'' said
              Sergio Widder of the center's Buenos Aires branch.

              Among the alleged fugitives the Wiesenthal Center says are in Venezuela is
              businessman Harry Mannil. It claims that as a political police officer during the
              1941-44 Nazi occupation of Estonia, Mannil participated in the massacre of at least
              100 civilians. Mannil, now 81, has strongly denied it.

              The others are from Lithuania and Latvia but won't be identified until it can be
              confirmed that they are alive and living in Venezuela, the Wiesenthal Center says.

              The Venezuelan government has said it will cooperate in the search.

              ``I don't even want to think that these type of people sought refuge in Venezuela,''
              Foreign Minister Luis Alfonso Davila told The Associated Press. ``We are proud of
              being a country that welcomed with open arms those who fled the barbarity of the
              European wars.''

              Although Nazi-hunters have largely focused their search outside Venezuela, the
              news didn't surprise Elieser Rotkopf, of the Confederation of Israeli Associations of
              Venezuela. Rotkopf points out that in 1943, the United States made a list of
              Venezuelan government officials who allegedly had ties to Nazis and could have
              subsequently helped them enter the country.

              The Wiesenthal Center also provided Argentina with the names of 20 alleged Nazi
              collaborators suspected of living there.

              Mannil, a former importer and art collector who has donated works to Estonian
              museums, insists he only worked for Estonia's political police for four months and
              fled in 1943 rather than cooperate with the Nazis.

              ``This is absurd and completely unfounded,'' he was quoted as saying in an Estonian

              His son, Mihkel, repeated the denial.

              ``My father was forced to flee Estonia for refusing to work with the Nazis. He
              escaped when they were about to arrest him,'' Mihkel told the AP. ``Those who
              accuse him are lying and they have no proof.''

              At least 5,000 Jews died in Estonia during the Nazi occupation of the Baltic country,
              according to the Wiesenthal Center.

              Estonian investigators say they combed their files in 1995 for evidence implicating
              Mannil but found none. Last week, an Estonian presidential commission announced
              that a search of archives there and in Germany found no mention of Mannil. The
              country's security police said they would seek access to any documents on Mannil in
              U.S. archives

              Efraim Zuroff of the Wiesenthal Center said in a recent letter to Estonian Prime
              Minister Mart Laar that he believes the United States has documents pointing to
              Mannil's guilt. He said Estonia should try Mannil if new evidence is uncovered.

              Eli Rosenbaum, who heads the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special
              Investigations on Nazis, said he couldn't comment about Mannil. But Justice
              Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mannil is barred from
              entering the United States because of the allegations. They declined to elaborate.

              Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel's former foreign minister, said the Venezuelan case shows
              that Latin governments shouldn't give up the search, even if more than 56 years have
              passed since the war ended.

              ``I am confident that (Venezuelan and Estonian) authorities will punish those
              responsible,'' Ben-Ami told the AP.