Nazi Hunting In Bariloche, Argentina

Bariloche, Argentina is famous throughout South America for its ski slopes, hiking trails, white water rafting, chocolates and Nazis. As a guy in a wheelchair, three of Bariloche’s top tourist attractions are useless to me.

My girlfriend and I ate chocolate whilst considering our options…

Nahuel Huapi Lake, Bariloche

Welcome To Nazi Town…

From 1946 to 1955, President Juan Perón opened Argentina’s doors to some 1,300 Nazis fleeing Europe the wake of World War II. Himself a left leaning socialist, he justified this policy in an interview in 1970, saying: “When the war ended, the useful Germans helped us to build new factories and improve what Argentina already had.”

Some of the Nazis melted seamlessly in to Argentine society under false names, others found a home from home deep in the heart of the Argentinean wilderness. Bariloche is an example of the latter.

Here is a photo of a Bariloche Nazi sympathisers group taken in 1938…

Bariloche Nazi sympathisers

Settled in the 19th century by German, Austrian and Slovenian immigrants, Bariloche feels like a bonafide slice of Bavaria – wooden lodges, adorably cute wildlife, snowy peaks, rosy cheeks, hearty laughter, flagons of frothy beer and cocoa before bedtime.

Legend has it that the mountain forests around Bariloche inspired Walt Disney to create Bambi.

The town gained worldwide attention in 1994 when a US TV news crew tracked down former SS Captain Erich Priebke who had been living as a free man for 40 years as a teacher at Primo Capraro, Bariloche’s Germano-Argentine school. He was also an active member of the local hiking club and a popular member of the community. Much international outrage ensued.

Priebke was eventually extradited to Italy for his role in the 1944 Ardeatene caves massacre in Rome which left 335 people dead. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998.

Bariloche Nazi bookAs well as Nazis, Bariloche is also home to author Abel Basti who spotted the tourism potential in his home town’s links to the Third Reich. In 1996 he published ‘Bariloche Nazi’.

I picked up an 8th edition copy of Basti’s book in the local tourist information office. It was written entirely in Spanish, but contained detailed maps showing where the Nazi escapees lived and worked.

Top Nazi Hangouts In Bariloche…

I flicked through Basti’s book and on page 75 it turned out we had already been to one war criminal haven without knowing it. The Town Hall was where Dr Joseph Mengele (Auschwitz’s ‘Angel Of Death’) did his driving test twice (he failed the first time) before fleeing to Buenos Aires.

A mysterious fire in the 1960s destroyed many of the Town Hall archives that could have proved Basti’s claims. Regardless, here is a photo of Bariloche’s Town Hall in all its Nazi glory…

Bariloche Town Hall

We started on the Nazi tour proper. First on the route was Josef Schwammberger, a commander in Polish forced labour camps throughout World War II. When he escaped to Bariloche in 1948 he briefly lived with his family in a lodge called ‘Pensión Pinkl’. Schwammberger was extradited to Germany in 1987 and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1992.

Since his extradition, Pensión Pinkl had also been destroyed in a mysterious fire and it is now a car park…

Josef Schwammberger's Pension Pinkl

Next up was Mariano Barilari’s house, the German psychiatrist specialising in ‘enigmatic hypnotherapy.’ Barilari wasn’t a full blown Nazi BUT he did house Mengele and holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann for ‘long periods,’ so says Basti’s book.

When we arrived at Barilari’s house, there was a For Sale sign outside. I wondered how Nazism affected property prices in Bariloche…

Mariano Barilari’s house

Further down the road is the home of Frederich Lantschner, Nazi governer of the Austrian Tyrol. Lantschner relocated to Bariloche in 1948 and founded a construction company under his real name which took for its emblem the letters ‘SS’. The book implies that he died in Bariloche, although for reasons unknown doesn’t say when.

Lantschner’s house is covered in graffiti. We were quite surprised when one of its residents popped their head out of the top window…

Frederich Lantschner's house

Nazi spy Reinhard Kopps operated mainly in the Balkans and Hungary. Immediately after the war he became a go between for the Argentinian authorities and the Catholic Church, organising the ‘rat line’ that smuggled war criminals from Europe to South America.

Kopps arrived in Argentina in 1948 and lived for a while in this building under a false name. Whilst in Bariloche he wrote many books denouncing the occult, Marxism and Judeo-Masonry, and even worked as an editor for a Nazi-apologist magazine published in Europe. He too was discovered by the US TV crew that tracked down Priebke, but went in to hiding shortly after.

Kopps died a free man in 2001. His home is now half a yoga studio, half an estate agents…

Reinhard Kopps's house

Last on the list were Priebke’s properties. It seems he had his fingers in many pies in Bariloche. The beloved climbing club of which he and Lantschner were members is still very much in full swing…

Club Andino Bariloche

He also built and then rented out this building to local businesses. It is now a clinic…

Priebke's building

Here is Bariloche’s Associacion Cultural Germano-Argentina, at which Priebke was the Founder and President…

Bariloche’s Associacion Cultural Germano-Argentina

This is the school in which he worked…

Primo Capraro, Bariloche

…and finally this is Priebke’s home with adjoining deli. Seemingly abandoned, there is now an adventure sports travel agency covering one half of the building and an Irish themed pub covering the other…

Priebke's house

The Uncomfortable Nazi Truth…

There were many more Nazi hangouts listed in Basti’s book, including (somewhat contrarily to mainstream historical consensus) a ranch 60 kilometres north of Bariloche in which Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun lived until they died of old age.

My girlfriend and I had already seen enough.

Honorary German Consulat of BarilocheWe had no idea how to act at each location on our tour of Bariloche’s fascist underbelly. Spit on the ground? Sing Kumbayah? Is it appropriate to take photos? If so, do you wait for the light to be perfect or the traffic to move out of the way to get the best possible shot? Basti’s book didn’t seem to offer any advice in this regard.

There was of course nothing here to celebrate but there wasn’t a huge amount to condemn either. The great tragedies of World War II happened in places like Normandy and Stalingrad and Treblinka – what happened in Bariloche was just a tiny fragment of the subsequent fall out. We stared at otherwise unremarkable houses and shops and car parks and struggled to place their historical context.

I asked our hostel owner about Nazis in Bariloche, he said: “After they came here most of them took on false names and became immaculate citizens. People here judged them on the way they behaved after they arrived in Argentina, and not before, and didn’t understand why they had to be brought to trial so many years later.”

In October last year Erich Priebke died at the age of 100 whilst under house arrest in his lawyer’s apartment in Rome. Faced with yet another international outcry, the Argentinean government refused to honour Priebke’s final wishes to let his body be buried in Bariloche next to his wife, saying “Argentines would not accept this kind of affront to human dignity.”

He was instead secretly interred by the Italian military at an undisclosed location on the outskirts of Rome.

Bariloche sunset

Having had its own disastrous far right regime in the 1970s and early 80s, today Argentina understands that National Socialism is a psychotically flawed ideology, that Nazis are bad people and that Adolf Hitler was a very, very naughty man.

But while the attitude towards Nazis may have changed since President Perón’s time, the attitude towards their past misdeeds hasn’t – it’s better not to dwell on it all when in Argentina there are so many factories to be built, slopes to be skied, mountains to be hiked, rivers to be rafted and chocolates to be eaten instead.

Eating chocolate, Nazi-style