Juan Domingo Perón. Source: ThoughtCo / Getty Images
1. Did [Juan Domingo] Perón shelter Nazis after WWII?
A: Yes. Perón helped fleeing Nazis escape Europe and gave them refuge in Argentina.
2. If “Yes” - what were his motives for doing so?
A: His motives were multi-faceted:
- He viewed Nazis as brothers in arms and helped them on that basis;
- He believed they could strategically help Argentina if the USA and USSR went to war;
- He sought their technical expertise as did the USA (Operation Paperclip) and the Soviets (Operation Osoaviakhim).
Note: A complete list of sources used in compiling this answer is included at the very bottom. Only a few in-line sources are used or cited, to try to keep the answer a little more legible.
1. Did [Juan Domingo] Perón actively interpose to bring Nazis over [to Argentina]?
Perhaps interpose is not what was meant by the Question, since interposing implies inserting oneself into a situation to change a behavior or outcome, and since Perón was the head of his government, no interposing was necessary (as a dictator, the government would do his bidding as directed without opposition), as well as the fact that opposition to the policy was minimal in Argentina at the time. There was a large German, Italian and Spanish presence and influence in Argentina, with natural sympathies for the Axis powers being widespread.
However, if the Question was meant to determine if Perón played an active and leading part in providing haven to Nazis after the war, the answer to #1 above is "Yes."
Contrary to some reports though, the "Ratlines" were not first established by Perón. As the Wiki Ratlines article indicates:
The origins of the first ratlines are connected to various developments in Vatican-Argentine relations before and during World War II. As early as 1942, Monsignor Luigi Maglione contacted Ambassador Llobet, inquiring as to the "willingness of the government of the Argentine Republic to apply its immigration law generously, in order to encourage at the opportune moment European immigrants to seek the necessary land and capital in our country".
This article (combined with other sources, all listed below) documents the foundations of the Ratlines before Perón was elected president in February 1946. At first, the Ratlines were used for smuggling and laundering stolen Nazi treasures, gold and money to various places outside Nazi-controlled territory (including Argentina). The Ratlines were later adopted for use in also smuggling people. Perón certainly made use of them for smuggling Nazis into Argentina, but he did not establish them.
However, as the Argentine Connection section of the Wiki Ratlines article states:
In his 2002 book, The Real Odessa, Argentine researcher Uki Goñi used new access to the country's archives to show that Argentine diplomats and intelligence officers had, on Perón's instructions, vigorously encouraged Nazi and fascist war criminals to make their home in Argentina. According to Goñi, the Argentines not only collaborated with [Father Krunoslav] Draganović's [Roman San Girolamo] ratline [a highly sophisticated chain with headquarters at the San Girolamo degli Illirici Seminary College in Rome], they set up further ratlines of their own running through Scandinavia, Switzerland and Belgium. [emphasis added]
Also, ThoughtCo's article on Perón and the Nazis explains Peron's active role in recruiting and protecting escaping Nazis like this:
Although it’s never been a secret that many Nazis fled to Argentina after the war, for a while no one suspected just how actively the Perón administration aided them. Perón dispatched agents to Europe – primarily Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and Scandinavia – with orders to facilitate the flight of Nazis and collaborators to Argentina. These men, including Argentine/German former SS agent Carlos Fuldner, helped war criminals and wanted Nazis to flee with money, papers, and travel arrangements. No one was refused: even heartless butchers like Josef Schwammberger and wanted criminals like Adolf Eichmann were sent to South America. Once they arrived in Argentina, they were given money and jobs. The German community in Argentina largely bankrolled the operation through Perón’s government. Many of these refugees met personally with Perón himself.
Perón's inner circle of power that helped the Nazis escape Europe included his wife Eva. The Unredacted article on Odessa: The Nazi Ratline has this to say:
As early as 1945, Eva Peron had an estimated $800m dollars in bank deposits, and vast amounts of gold and diamonds, much of it of Nazi origin.
This money helped former Nazis purchase huge tracts of land in South America and elsewhere and establish whole colonies amenable to German life — protected by former SS officers and Nazi sympathising local thugs.
That Perón's Argentina helped prop up the ratlines (often with Nazi money previoulsy smuggled out through some of those same ratlines), set up some new ones, and actively (even vigorously) recruited and protected Nazi escapees is not in doubt.
2. Assuming 'yes' to the above and that Perón wasn't really a fascist but more like a populist with some fascist sympathies, what motives did he have to host Nazis? E.g. was he looking to feel some engineering cadre or what was his agenda?
First - dealing with the explicit assumptions included in the text of this second part of the Question: that a) Perón "wasn't really a fascist", and b) Perón was "more like a populist"...
Certainly definitions of facism
differ and can be debated, but if one accepts (from the Wiki article) at least in part that facism is:
a form of radical authoritarian ultranationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy... [o]pposed to liberalism, Marxism and anarchism...
Such a [fascist] state is led by a strong leader—such as a dictator and a martial government composed of the members of the governing fascist party—to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society.
then one can reasonably conclude that while Perón may not have been a fascist in name, he was certainly one in deed. His rise to the presidency of Argentina was marked by the same organized oppressive brutalities as was seen in Mussolini's and Hitler's earlier ascensions. That Perón idolized both Mussolini and Hitler is no secret, easily verified by a 20 second internet search, and not subject to debate.
Argentina's "neutrality" in World War II was a facade, not due to merely lukewarm fascist "sympathies" (the Axis powers elicited more than mere "sympathies" from Argentina and Perón) but was more a matter of military pragmatism with a much larger and stronger and pro-Allies neighbor in Brazil. It is documented that Perón actually feared open conflict with Brazil during the years of the European war. For example, an article in The Vintage News on Juan Perón confirms:
[Argentina] supported the Axis cause as actively as possible, and Argentina was filled with Nazi agents, while Argentinian officers and spies roamed throughout Germany, Italy, and parts of occupied Europe. Argentina purchased arms from Germany in fear of hostilities with Brazil, which supported the Allied countries in the war. In return, Germany vowed major trade concessions to Argentina once the war was over.
Argentina's entry into the war on the side of the Allies one month before the final collapse and surrender of Germany is no testament to Perón's goodwill or turn from fascism, rather, as has been documented (sources included below), it was a calculated move to position Argentina to better assist escaping Nazis from the Allies' grasp and international justice.
Addressing Perón as a populist
is more challenging, as the term defies universal definition. As The Economist
Populists can be everything from militarists to libertarians. So what does the word actually mean? ...
The Wiki article on Populism includes this:
... populism is a thin-ideology which is combined with other, more substantial thick ideologies such as nationalism, liberalism, or socialism. Thus, populists can be found at different locations along the left–right political spectrum and there is both left-wing populism and right-wing populism.
But considering Perón a populist does have support among many. The Economist article quoted above goes on to say:
Widespread use of the term “populism” dates to the 1890s, when America’s Populist movement pitted rural populations and the Democratic Party against the more urban Republicans. (It was also used to refer to Russia’s 19th-century narodnichestvo movement, which largely comprised self-hating intellectuals with a crush on the peasantry.) In the 1950s academics and journalists began applying it more broadly to describe everything from fascist and communist movements in Europe to America’s anti-communist McCarthyites and Argentina’s Peronistas. [emphasis added]
Also, Perón's Cold War "Third Position" (as a neutral between capitalism and communism) following World War II was often described as a populist position (again, refer to sources below). Note that Fascism and Populism are not mutually exclusive, and one can easily be both a fascist and a populist, depending on circumstances (and definitions).
This brings us to the meat of the 2nd part of this Question, e.g.: "what motives did [Perón] have to host Nazis?
Answer - his motives were multi-faceted.
First, as ThoughtCo's article on Perón and the Nazis states:
Perón’s Argentina had actively participated in World War Two. They stopped short of declaring war or sending soldiers or weapons to Europe, but aided the Axis powers as much as possible without exposing themselves to the wrath of the Allies should they prove victorious (as they eventually did). When Germany surrendered in 1945, the atmosphere in Argentina was more mournful than joyous. Perón, therefore, felt that he was rescuing brothers-in-arms rather than helping wanted war criminals. He was enraged about the Nuremberg Trials, thinking them a farce unworthy of the victors. After the war, Perón and the Catholic Church lobbied hard for amnesties for the Nazis. [emphasis added]
Second, an additional ThoughtCo article on Nazis in Argentina highlights another facet of Perón's motives:
Perón and some of his advisors, predicted that World War Three would break out as soon as 1948.
In this upcoming "inevitable" conflict [between capitalism and communism], third parties such as Argentina could tip the balance one way or the other. Perón envisioned nothing less than Argentina taking its place as a crucially important diplomatic third party in the war, emerging as a superpower and leader of a new world order. The Nazi war criminals and collaborators may have been butchers, but there is no doubt that they were rabidly anti-communist. Perón thought these men would come in useful in the "upcoming" conflict between the USA and the USSR. [emphasis added]
[Note: the above quote refers to the "Third Position" espoused by Perón, post-WWII.]
A third facet to Perón's motives may have also included a claim found in a History article titled How Argentina Became a Nazi Haven which states:
The Argentine president also sought to recruit those Nazis with particular military and technical expertise that he believed could help his country, much like the United States and the Soviet Union who both poached scientists from the Third Reich to assist them in the Cold War.
[Notes: This History article is not as heavily sourced as other references included in this answer, so I include it here only as a possibility, not knowing the primary sources. Regarding the USA and USSR "poach[ing] scientists from the Third Reich," this is in large part a reference to Operations Lusty, Alsos, Paperclip, Osoaviakhim and others (see Sources below)]
It is worth mentioning that although Argentina was well known to have harbored a similar anti-semitism as did Fascist Europe, there are complexities to consider here as well. The Wiki article on History of the Jews in Argentina
includes this fact:
Perón also expressed sympathy for Jewish rights and in 1949 established diplomatic relations with Israel. Perón's government was the first in Argentina to allow Jewish citizens to hold office.
So, while the Question asked may seem straightforward, one must deal with complexities to find a satisfactory answer. All source material used in constructing this Answer (in addition to the few in-line sources above) are included in the list below. I hope this helps.
- Britannica.com - Juan Perón | President of Argentina
- Wikipedia - Juan Perón
- Wikipedia - Ratlines (World War II Aftermath)
- The Unredacted - Odessa: The Nazi Ratline
- Chicago Tribune - Nazi Hunters in Argentina Pursue New Evidence of Peron Complicity Dec. 22, 1997
- The Vintage News - Argentina's Juan Peron: His harboring of Nazi war criminals did not bring about the benefits he expected for his country
- The Vintage News - The escape of Nazi criminals to Argentina
- The Wilson Center - Peron and the Nazi War Criminals
- The New York Times - Half-Century Later, a New Look at Argentine-Nazi Ties April 4, 2005 (this article refers to Gaby Weber's book The German Connection: The Laundering of Nazi Money in Argentina)
- Wikipedia article - History of the Jews in Argentina
- Questia - Reluctant Partners: Juan Peron and the Jews of Argentina, 1946 - 1955
- ThoughtCo - Biography of Juan Peron
- ThoughtCo - Juan Domingo Peron and Argentina's Nazis
- ThoughtCo - Why Argentina Accepted Nazi War Criminals After World War II
- History - How South America Became a Nazi Haven
- Wikipedia - Fascism
- Wikipedia - Populism
- The Economist - What is Populism
- Wikipedia - Third Position
- Wikipedia - Operation Lusty
- Wikipedia - Alsos Mission
- Wikipedia - Russian Alsos
- Wikipedia - Operation Osoaviakhim
- Wikipedia - Operation Paperclip
- CIA Library - Review of Annie Jacobsen's Operation Paperclip book (below)
- Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America, Annie Jacobsen (Little, Brown and Company, 2014) [author's note - excellent book!]