When you think of Argentina, what springs to mind first? Soccer, maybe? Steaks? Or how about long beaches and sub-tropical heat? Well, what was discovered in this suburb of Buenos Aires might just change your view of the country. It’s shocking, it’s troubling – and it’s tied to one of the darkest times in human history.
Behind a bookshelf in a library in a house in Beccar, a suburban area lying to the north of Buenos Aires, investigators found a secret passage. Down the passage they came upon a room, hidden away from prying eyes. And inside were more than 75 artifacts from the Second World War.
They were relics of the Nazi regime. The objects don’t just paint a picture of Germany during the conflict, though. They’re a glimpse into what took place after. If they’re genuine, then there’s a very good chance that they were brought to Argentina by a high-ranking party official.
Investigators were first made aware of the potential for the discovery when the collector put a piece of illicit art in a local gallery. Then, on June 9, police came to the collector’s door. What they found inside was this truly shocking haul of objects.
But it’s not just art and weapons that made the discovery a tad disturbing. There were other things in the secret room, ranging from the slightly unsettling to the macabre. And this isn’t the first time that Nazi items have been found in Argentina. The connection between South America and Nazi officials goes back a lot further.
At least two well-known Nazi party officials fled to Argentina after the war. Infamous physician and mass murderer Josef Mengele lived in Buenos Aires for more than a decade. He only fled when another Nazi, concentration camp administrator Adolf Eichmann, was arrested by Israeli Mossad agents in a house nearby. While Eichmann was caught and then executed, Mengele died while swimming off the coast of Brazil in 1979.
The house where this latest discovery was made was close to the location where both Mengele and Eichmann had lived during their time in Argentina. It’s that fact that has given even more credence to the newly found Nazi artifacts.
The find proved to be the largest haul of Nazi items ever found in Argentina. But perhaps the most shocking of them all was a photographic negative. It could well show that Adolf Hitler himself used one of the objects that was behind the secret bookcase.
One of the boxes found contained magnifying glasses emblazoned with swastikas. The photographic negative discovered alongside them shows Hitler using a magnifying glass that looks very similar. And so the detectives who found the items asked a historian if they could verify that it was the same object.
“We have turned to historians and they’ve told us it is the original magnifying glass,” the head of Argentina’s federal police, Nestor Roncaglia, told ABC. The negative has since been sent further afield so further investigations can progress. But there was even more to the haul than that.
Because the magnifying glasses weren’t the only things that were accompanied by old images. And the police who found the hidden cache think they know why. It’s because the photos add legitimacy to the items. Argentinian Security Minister Patricia Bullrich explained the thinking behind this while she was speaking to the Associated Press in June 2017.
“This is a way to commercialize them, showing that they were used by the horror, by the Führer. There are photos of him with the objects,” she said. In other words, attaching the pictures to the objects allows sellers to confirm the veracity of the items. But it also helps investigators confirm that they’re real.
One of the more sinister finds in the haulwas a device used to measure heads. The Nazis used this to differentiate between “Aryans” and Jewish people. Perhaps even worse, there were a number of children’s toys covered in Nazi insignia. What these were used for is particularly chilling.
The toys were used to indoctrinate children into Nazi ideals. They included a box of harmonicas. There were six in the box, and sitting alongside them were propaganda images for the Hitler Youth organization. As police dug deeper into the find, more and more items were discovered. Some pretty large pieces were found.
There was a bust of Adolf Hitler’s head, sat atop a grey stone plinth. And even larger than that, a Nazi eagle that looked like it would take two people to carry. Then there was a large knife, covered in Nazi marks, that shared a plush-looking case with a large metal swastika.
Right now, officials haven’t commented on who these grim items used to belong to. The collector, who has so far remained anonymous, hasn’t been arrested. They are still under investigation by an Argentinian federal judge, however. But that leaves a pretty big question. What’s going to happen to the stash now that it’s been found?
Bullrich has confirmed that the seized items are off the market. Instead of finding their way into the hands of other collectors, they’ll be taken to a museum in Buenos Aires that honors the victims of the Holocaust. But the story is unlikely to end there, because there’s still plenty of information to discover.
The next task for the investigators is to figure out how the items in the secret room made it to Argentina in the first place. While there are clues in the objects that were discovered, the officials dealing with the case have yet to make any announcements about who they believe brought the cache into Buenos Aires.
But speaking to the Associated Press, Ariel Cohen Sabban suggested that the find was of huge historical significance. Sabban is the president of the DAIA, which is a political group made up of different Jewish institutes from Argentina. According to Sabban, the secret room offers something invaluable to those still piecing together the history of the Second World War.
“Finding 75 original pieces is historic and could offer irrefutable proof of the presence of top leaders who escaped from Nazi Germany,” Sabban said. As research into the discovery continues, perhaps some light will finally be shed on just how top German officials managed to escape the country with so many chilling relics of Nazi oppression.