The coup that toppled President Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay may make it easier to find hundreds of Nazi fugitives believed still living in the South American country, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust studies said.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, who heads the center that has led the hunt for war criminals, said that while Stroessner was in power the Paraguayan police and other authorities were unwilling to help in the search for Nazi fugitives."When democracy comes, Nazi war criminals will have to consider it a very bad day for Paraguay," Hier said. "Probably some are making reservations by boat or plane to get out. Some may consider moving elsewhere."
The leader of Friday's coup, Gen. Andres Rodriguez, was sworn in as president Friday and promised to return the country to democracy soon.
Hier said "it is safe to say that hundreds of Nazis" are still living in Paraguay, which along with Argentina freely welcomed fugitives from post-war Germany.
"We have a couple of names on our list there," he said. "But until we have evidence that they committed a crime, we can't really talk about it."
Hier said Stroessner had a fascination with Hitler and "close attachments" with Nazi elements.
"(Stroessner and the late Argentine dictator Juan Peron) just saw to it that these people were welcome, were desirable," Hier said. "Both countries were high on the list of the Odessa network, the secret organization that got SS officers out of Europe."
Nazi war criminal Edward Roschmann fled to Asuncion, Paraguay, from Argentina in 1977 to die peacefully, a pauper. Another Nazi, physician Josef Mengele, whom concentration camp survivors called the "Angel of Death," lived for years in Paraguay and was given citizenship before moving to Brazil, where he died.
Hier said he hoped the new government in Paraguay would help the same way as the democratic regime in Argentina, which aided in the apprehension last year of Josef Schammberger, the commandant of three concentration camps.
"With the new government we were able to go through officials channels, we told the whole world," he said.