Last weekend the Argentine paper Clarín reported that archaeologists from the University of Buenos Aires had excavated what may be the remains of a Nazi hideout built as a refuge for fleeing leaders during the later years of WWII. The site in the Teyu Cuare national park in the far northeastern province of Misiones, right on the border with Paraguay, has long been associated with Nazi myths. Years ago locals posted a sign advertising the few stones aboveground as the home of Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler's right-hand man. But they had no proof of its sinister ties until the archaeologists uncovered the whole of the compound, which contained five German coins minted between 1938 and 1941 and fragments of a plate made in Germany.
People have known for ages about the post-War Nazi presence in Argentina, which under the regime of President Juan Perón welcomed Nazi refugees until 1955, sheltering head honchos like Adolf Eichmann and Joseph Mengele well into the 60s and 70s. ( Bormann, though, almost certainly died in Berlin in 1945, making the local legend somewhat mysterious). Going by files on Nazi immigration to South America uncovered in Brazil and Chile in 2012 , at least 5,000 Nazis came into the country. But most of them lived on sizable ranches or in cities , never having to hide in remote refuges.
This makes the new bunker a novel find, both for its isolation and fortification (it has 10-foot-thick walls and a watchtower on a hill ), which suggest that before the Nazis knew they had sympathizers in the region, they were already planning clandestine doomsday getaways farther out into the jungle than anyone thought before.
Some critics, however, have cast doubt on the speculative labeling of the site as a Nazi bunker. They point out that Misiones was at the time over 7 percent German . Either these traders or subsequent tour guides trying to make a buck off of the Bormann legend could have dropped Nazi-era coins on the site. Originally the site could have been something like a Jesuit refuge or a failed homestead.
Eager to learn a bit more about this bizarre jungle getaway, VICE reached out to Daniel Schávelzon , director of the University of Buenos Aires's Center for Urban Archaeology and the lead archaeologist on the dig that uncovered the hideout (which he's the first to admit is just a preliminary classification , pending further research). He told us about the utter isolation and hostility of the site, the possible origin of the Bormann legend, and his country's reticence to come to grips with its history of Nazi collaboration and attendant archaeology.
VICE: Tell me about this Nazi hideout. How big and secure was it?
Daniel Schávelzon: It's not a building made to be protected from bombs or things like that. It's a place of isolation. It's composed of three buildings in the middle of the jungle. Nobody could see the buildings from the river. It's covered by vegetation. One building is a normal house but surrounded by a huge wall. Another is like a barn or granary, or whatever you like. The third is on top of a hill, a [watchtower] over the other buildings at the bottom of the hill with big windows without glass to see all around.
[It wouldn't have housed] more than two families or a group of six to eight men. There's just one restroom, one kitchen (probably), and two rooms—a common room and a small veranda, and that's all.
Would it have been easy enough for people to survive there?
The conditions of the place are really hard. It's not a nice place to live. I thought it was planned for use as a refuge [for the Nazis because] in 1945 nobody was there. There were no nearby cities. It was really an isolated place. It wasn't a nice place to stay.
It's not a place for farming. It's impossible to grow anything. It's jungle. You can maybe catch some animals. Well, it's a good place for fish—big fish. You're two minutes away from the river.
Just how isolated was this hideout? How hard would it have been to get to a city?
There is a way to go to the nearest city by the river, nobody would know where you came from. Imagine: in 1945 Misiones was the end of the world. Today the nearest city is 60 kilometers away, but it was not founded by 1945. It's a new city. Nearby there were just some trails for a horse or walking.
How would the Nazis have managed to build something all the way out there? We think it was built before the end of the war. This was probably built during '43 or '44. I think it was not difficult for a couple of people from Germany to direct the construction, which was made by local people with local resources. There were, as I know from literature, from historians, so many spies and people working for the Germans here, like in other countries. I don't think it was difficult for a couple of engineers to come here to Misiones and do it. It was an isolated place and people were probably happy to have a job
How was the site found if it's in such a remote part of the country?
Today the site is in a state park open to the public. In all of the area, there are people living. There's a road a few kilometers away and we have cars and all that.
One of the houses was discovered when the park was opened at the end of the 80s. People found stones and said, OK, that's a house. There was a legend that everybody repeated that it was the house of Martin Bormann, Hitler's secretary, probably because there were several American and European Nazi hunters around southern Brazil, Paraguay, and northeastern Argentina for years trying to find Mengele and other Nazis. These Nazi hunters talked about Bormann. The house was unexplained—these three buildings of stone in the middle of nowhere. So people associated the two things they knew: strange buildings and a man people were trying to find and paying information for, and it looked good to say, this is Martin Bormann's house! There was a sign saying that, made by the people who controlled the park five years ago. But no one studied it for the last 30 years. There's so much other work to do in the country.
Why did you decide to come out and have a look at these old stone buildings, then?
This is completely away form my line of work. I'm an urban archaeologist, working on cities very far away from that place. But I was curious because nobody had dug there and there was no explanation.
I'm not so young. I'm 64 years old and I've been doing archaeology for the last 40 years. I think it's time to do what I like to do, not what the institution tells me to do [ laughs]. And this was one of the projects that I had in my mind for years. So my group said, OK, it's time to start on this. It could be interesting . And it was more interesting than we could expect.
We are few people. We have no money, no resources. It's our effort out of our pocket, and we're trying to do the best that we can do.
We found [Nazi] artifacts. But nothing to do with Bormann.
What did you think when you realized what the site was? How important do you think discovering… not a Nazi ranch, but a little hidden fort is for archaeology in your country?
I was so afraid because I was not accustomed [to working on such a recent site]. And I'm from a Jewish family. Those things together, and the condition of the place… well, it was very interesting. It was an experience.
I can't say how important it is today. I think that for some people it's very important and for other people it's something to put under a stone again [ laughs]. Remember that we [Argentines] under the Perón government protected Nazis. I think that so many people in the government and in other places don't like to talk about Perón and the Nazis. To me it's history, not politics. But I don't know.
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