Venezuela Shocked by Nazi Accusation
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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,
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
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
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
Sergio Widder of the center's Buenos Aires branch.
Among the alleged fugitives the Wiesenthal Center says are in Venezuela
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
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
Although Nazi-hunters have largely focused their search outside Venezuela,
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
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
His son, Mihkel, repeated the denial.
``My father was forced to flee Estonia for refusing to work with the Nazis.
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
according to the Wiesenthal Center.
Estonian investigators say they combed their files in 1995 for evidence
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
Efraim Zuroff of the Wiesenthal Center said in a recent letter to Estonian
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
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
responsible,'' Ben-Ami told the AP.