Past and Present

Jewish World Review Nov. 4, 1998 / 14 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759


Pinochet --- good for Jews, tragedy for human rights




Can you be an admirer of the Jews and the Nazis at the same time? Is it possible to commit crimes against humanity and at the same time be a philo-Semite?




By Luis Fleischman

WHEN ADOLPH EICHMANN WAS ARRESTED IN 1960, the German philosopher Karl Jaspers stated that the architect of the Final Solution should be tried in an international court and charged with crimes against humanity.

At that time it was clear to world Jewry that Eichmann should be tried for his crimes against the Jewish people. The uniqueness of the Holocaust as a crime against the Jewish people was reinforced by a sense that perhaps the world had not yet understood what had been done to the Jews. Reinforcing this view was the fact that anti-Semitism was still a problem. Therefore, with the notion of Jews -- not humanity -- as a victim, Eichman was tried in Israel.

Today, as we see genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and other places, there is again discussion, particularly in the United Nations, about creating an international court for crimes against humanity.

More and more, I tend to believe that Jaspers was right to think of genocide in terms of international human rights, regardless of who the perpetrator and victim may be.

And so, I ask: Can you be an admirer of the Jews and the Nazis at the same time? Is it possible to commit crimes against humanity and at the same time be a philo-Semite?

At the request of a Spanish judge, Britain recently arrested Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile for 17 years, for his responsibility in the assassination of 95 Spaniards. Pinochet took power by force following a bloody coup díetat in September 1973.

That coup, whose brutality set an example for other South American dictatorships that followed, began with an air blitz on the House of Government. It was followed by the suspected murder of the constitutionally elected socialist president Salvador Allende and continued with the establishment of dreadful prison camps, generalized terror and the physical elimination of political enemies. Rape of pregnant women, execution on the spot with no trial, torture of prisoners to death, mutilation of people and disfigurement of bodies were common practice during Pinochetís regime. Three thousand people were assassinated and 1,100 disappeared under his despotic rule.

However, unlike in Argentina, where the memory of the military regime is no less than a national trauma that will never be erased, mixed feelings prevail in Chile.

The Chilean coup díetat (which the Nixon administration actively supported through economic embargo of goods to Chile and through CIA support) followed a situation of social chaos; political division between right and left had reached a dimension of violence and uncontrolled antagonism. In 1973, Chile was on the verge of a civil war. The middle classes, fearful of socialist policies that threatened private property, supported the coup. Jews, as an integral part of the middle class, had views no different from those of their fellow nationals.

It is possible to say with a high degree of certainty that despite the prominent presence of Jews in Allendeís government, an important number of Jews welcomed Pinochet. Moreover, when Allende was elected president in 1970, 8,000 of Chileanís 30,000 Jews fled the country, mostly to Israel, fearful of losing their property and assets to the socialist regime. Furthermore, when Pinochet took over three years later, many of those who had fled returned to Chile; however, other Jews fled the country.

Unlike its Argentinean counterpart, the Chilean authoritarian regime had repudiated anti-Semitism from the outset. Pinochet himself flirted with the Jewish community. He made a habit of touring synagogues during Yom Kippur services and appointed some Jews to high government posts. One of them, Sergio Melnick, was an Orthodox Jew who served as a key figure on Pinochetís economic team.

Also in contrast to Argentina where the military developed ideological anti- Semitism, the Chilean army welcomed Jews into its ranks. Some Jewish officers made impressive careers in the Chilean Army, such as the hard-liner Gen. Jose Berdichewsky, an ardent supporter of Pinochet. Berdichewsky, who spoke fluent Yiddish, was appointed ambassador to Israel in the mid-1970s. Pinochet, of course, maintained excellent relations with the State of Israel, where Chile acquired weapons. This relationship made Israel vulnerable to criticism from both inside and outside the country.

(Despite the generally good Jewish relations, Pinochet had no problem praising the army of the German Third Reich, which he considered to be very brave, unlike the current German Army, which he called "an army of useless homosexuals.")

Moreover, Pinochet developed a strong relationship with, and received advice from, members of a mysterious sect located in southern Chile. Colonia Dignidad allegedly served as a haven for ex-Nazis and is suspected of having been a center for governmental repression against political opponents. Headed by Paul Schaffer, a former Wehrmacht soldier and World War II veteran, Colonia Dignidad enjoyed Pinochetís protection; he emphatically defended the colony and attacked those who dared to criticize it.

With the establishment of the democratic regime in Chile, Colonia Dignidad became more vulnerable. President Eduardo Frei removed its not-for-profit status and, most recently, Schaffer became a fugitive after a Chilean court ordered his arrest on charges of abuse and abduction of children. During the Pinochet years, the Chilean Jewish community made a conscious decision not to make a public issue of Colonia Dignidad in order not to raise the generalís wrath.

Pinochet has gone unpunished for his crimes. He most likely will walk free from Britain due to his status as Chilean Senator for Life --- which he managed to extract from Chilean civilian rulers as part of a deal for a peaceful transition to democracy ó and to his status as a former head of state.

Pinochetís admiration of the Nazi method existed simultaneously with his benevolent and protective treatment of Jews. Therefore, we need always to go beyond looking at human rights solely in terms of its effect on the Jewish community.

An international court, whose creation the United Nations is constantly postponing for political reasons, would potentially represent the law of reason. Such a court should be able to try crimes against humanity, regardless of whether the crime was committed against nations or individuals or where and by whom they were committed. Otherwise the lessons of the Holocaust cannot be fully learned.


Luis Fleischman is director of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jerseyís Jewish Community Relations Council.


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