Argentina takes down ‘prolific’ clandestine Nazi printing press

Argentina takes down ‘prolific’ clandestine Nazi printing press

When Argentina’s federal police raided a home on the outskirts of Buenos Aires this week, they found hundreds of books plastered with swastikas and imperial eagles. Some of the works glorified Adolf Hitler, while others denied the Holocaust and provided a revisionist history of World War II.

All were part of the country’s largest seizure of materials espousing Nazi propaganda in recent years, officials said in a news conference Wednesday.

The texts — more than 200 in total — were produced by a “prolific” clandestine printing press that operated under the name Librería Argentina, officials said. On Tuesday, the online bookstore’s alleged owner, a 45-year-old man who was not publicly identified, was arrested on discriminatory acts charges after police raided his parents’ home.

“We’re still astonished by the amount of material,” Federal Police Chief Juan Carlos Hernández said during the news conference. “It’s historic. It’s truly a printing press disseminating and selling Nazi symbology, books and indoctrination.”

The raid in Béccar, a town just north of Buenos Aires, was the tipping point in an investigation that began in 2021 after the Delegation of Israelite Associations of Argentina, the umbrella organization representing the country’s Jewish community, raised alarms.

The organization had received complaints about a website that was disseminating antisemitic content and selling the material through Mercado Libre, the largest e-commerce platform in South America — running afoul of an Argentine law that prohibits discrimination and carrying out “propaganda based on ideas or theories of superiority of a race or a group of persons of a certain religion, ethnic origin or color.”

The vendor, Hernández said, sold “high-quality material” and had “a high level of purchases and inquiries.” At some point after the delegation denounced it, the man’s Mercado Libre account was terminated, prompting him to sell the materials through a website of his own, police said.

The Librería Argentina site presents itself as an online bookstore “specialized in war themes” that makes “room for all books that have been marginalized from the most popular bookstores regardless of their tendency, especially all forms of nationalism and history of ancient or forgotten movements.”

While the bookstore claims it “deplores any form of violence, discrimination or racism,” its website is brimming with Nazi symbolism, from Othala runes to Celtic crosses and imperial eagles. And its repertoire includes works by Belgian Nazi collaborator León Degrelle, the Italian fascist Julius Evola, and Nazi theorist and ideologue Alfred Rosenberg — as well as “Mein Kampf” by Hitler.

Eventually, police were able to match the 45-year-old man to the Mercado Libre account and the bookstore’s website, finding that he used his father’s home as his printing workplace, officials said.

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On Tuesday, police hauled away 222 books, 140 book covers for unprinted copies and two office printers. The amount of materials was “stupefying” for the authorities involved and the organization that prompted the investigation.

“We are shocked by how profuse the material is,” Marcos Cohen, of the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations, said at the news conference. “I don’t remember anything like this being found before.”

The discovery brought shock waves across Argentina, a nation that has grappled with its legacy as a haven for Nazis fleeing justice after the end of World War II.

In the South American country, they found a welcoming government headed by President Juan Perón, who had fascist ties, said Gerald J. Steinacher, a professor of history at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Argentina was a traditional country with strong Italian and German immigration, so there were communities and connections already there,” Steinacher said. “But another reason is that Argentina had very pragmatic reasons as to why it was willing to take in people with a Nazi background after the war, and it’s because they wanted the German know-how and technology, especially to modernize their military.”

Those who made their way to Argentina included Josef Mengele, the doctor who conducted experiments on humans; Erich Priebke, a former SS captain who participated in the killing of 335 people in an Italian cave; and Adolf Eichmann, one of the key organizers of the Holocaust. By 1997, the nation had established a commission to investigate Nazi activities and Argentina’s role as a refuge for Nazis and their personal or stolen wealth.

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Since then, Argentina has cracked down on other instances of Nazi propaganda distribution and antisemitism — something Steinacher commended as a “very important step forward.”

“It’s important not to be passive and allow hate to go by unchecked,” he said. “That’s one of the lessons we have learned from studying the history of Germany: that a democracy has to be willing to defend itself against people who want to overthrow democracy.”

Yet, the fact that antisemitic and Nazi materials are still swirling around Argentina — the country with the largest Jewish population in Latin America — is great cause for concern, Cohen said at the news conference.

“It is astonishing that there are people producing this type of material, and it is concerning that there are people consuming it,” Cohen said. “And that is the challenge we have to overcome.”

Hernández, the federal police chief, said Tuesday’s raid and arrest were just the beginning in what could become a sprawling probe.

“We do not rule out that it is just the tip of an iceberg,” he said. “For now, we have cut the distribution lines, but the law also punishes those who consume such material.”