Brazil Takes Strong Stance on Nazi Investigations

Argentina isn't the only South American country investigating the Nazi role in its past.

On April 7, Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced the creation of the Special Commission to Search for Nazi Monies, a five-member group with an 18 month-mandate to probe into once-classified documents.

"Profit from violence and torture is not acceptable," President Cardoso told reporters. "We do this not to satisfy the Jewish people but to show the repudiation of [this by] all Brazilians."

Justice Minister Nelson Jobim will head the commission, which includes two accountants and Rabbi Henry Sobel, the head of the So Paulo Jewish Congregation.

"This is a real commitment. The president told me that he wants to erase the moral stain of the Holocaust," Mr. Sobel said in a phone interview.

The commission's first aim is to determine how many Nazis entered the country. The World Jewish Congress believes about 1,500 Nazis came to Brazil after the war, including the infamous Josef Mengele, who lived quietly here until he drowned while swimming in the sea in 1979.

Other commission goals include finding out how much wealth the Nazis brought and what they did with it. The commission hopes to unravel the mystery from records provided by the Banco do Brasil, a state bank that served as the nation's central bank during the war and postwar years.

Unlike in Argentina, where some documents were destroyed, bank records in Brazil are intact, Sobel says.

"We already know that some national and even multinational companies were built with Nazi money," he says. "We are going to shake some people up."

SOBEL says he hopes that confirmation with government documents will persuade firms built with Nazi monies to "do something in good grace," such as the creation of a reparations fund.

The Brazilian government may also have to pay restitution.

According to the Rio daily, O Globo, the commission already has a Brazilian National Treasury document that proves President Getulio Vargas, a Nazi sympathizer, confiscated $46 million in assets from Brazilian Jews in 1947.

In Argentina, Segio Widder, the Latin American representative for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, hopes that Brazil's commission will serve as a regional example.

"We need someone like [President] Cardoso to do serious work" he says, "and then tell the others: 'Follow me.'"

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