The Nazis were responsible for one of the darkest times in history. It is a time that many would prefer be hidden away from sight. But recently, some powerful reminders of Nazi history have been uncovered. The events unfolded in a way that could be a page out of a crime novel.
Recently, an art collector's home in a suburb of Argentina's capital Buenos Aires was raided by Interpol and Argentinian police as part of operation "Near East." Behind a bookshelf, they found a secret passageway filled with a trove of Nazi artifacts.
The agents had become aware of the collector who they believed acquired art "under UNESCO's red alert." After receiving a judicial order, agents were able to raid the unnamed art collector's house. But what they ended up finding was the biggest collection of World War II artifacts in the history of Argentina.
The artifacts were incredibly protected. "We found the objects in glass casings in a room, absolutely inaccessible to anyone," said Marcelo El Haibe, Inspector Commissary with the Cultural Heritage Protection of Argentina's Federal Police.
The secret room had around 75 pieces of Nazi paraphernalia stashed away. The objects were marked with swastikas or other Nazi symbols and included busts of Adolph Hitler, daggers, magnifying glasses, silverware, binoculars, a trumpet, and a giant hourglass. Additionally, photos of Adolph Hitler were found as well. They are believed to have belonged to high-ranking Nazi officers.
But not all of the objects were adults only. The agents found children's toys, like harmonicas, decorated with swastikas. "There are Nazi objects used by kids, but with the party's propaganda," said federal police Commissioner Marcelo El Haibe. He added, "There were jigsaw puzzles and little wood pieces to build houses, but they always featured party-related images and symbols."
Perhaps the most disturbing objects found in the room, however, were of medical instruments. The instruments were designed to measure a human head to see if the size fit into the "standards" of the Aryan race. As the Nazi's believed, head measurements could differentiate a Jew from a member of the Aryan race.
“We know the history, we know of the horrible experiments conducted by Josef Mengele,” said Ariel Cohen Sabban, president of Argentina's largest Jewish organization, the Delegation of Israelite-Argentines Associations. “When I see these objects, I see the infamy of that terrible era of humanity that has caused so much damage, so much sadness.”
As evidence that the items were authentic, many artifacts had accompanying photos, with some of the photos depicting Hitler holding the items. “This is a way to commercialize them, showing that they were used by the horror, by the Fuhrer. There are photos of him with the objects,” said Argentine Security Minister Patricia Bullrich.
The collection of artifacts was more than just some weird shrine to the Third Reich. The agents also found rare artifacts from Japan, China and even Ancient Egypt. Among the items found were 3,000-year-old animal mummies. It is believed that these mummies were intended to be sold on the black market.
Now that the artifacts have been discovered, the agents are investigating how the German objects made their way to Argentina in the first place. The agents have sought out the help of historians to solve the mystery.
The art collector was not at home during the time of the raid and has not yet been charged. The collector is, however, under investigation. "There are no precedents for a find like this," said Nestor Roncaglia, the head of Argentina's federal police. "Pieces are stolen or are imitations. But this is original, and we have to get to the bottom of it."
At the end of World War II, many Nazis fled Germany to South America. For instance, Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, aka the guy who ran the logistics of transporting Jewish people to death camps, was found in Buenos Aires in 1960. Nazi doctor Josef Mengele (who was nicknamed "the Angel of Death") also fled to Argentina in order to escape justice, however, he too was found and put on trial for war crimes. Both men lived in Béccar, the Buenos Aires suburbs where the artifacts were found.
And as for the artifacts? They will be donated to the Holocaust Museum in Buenos Aires. “This decision to bring these pieces to the Holocaust Museum will put strong barriers against hatred and discrimination,” said Claudio Avruj, the minister of human rights and cultural pluralism. “These facts show that the Holocaust did not end with the passage of time because there are people who try to keep this policy of death, discrimination and hatred alive.”