To Hunt a Nazi
by Roberto Fox – as told to Frank Thomas Smith
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
There are moments in the present, but also in the past and I hope in the future, when I have the urge to pull Eliot out from my book case and read Four Quartets. The moments are usually when I’m bogged down with a story or a poem and think that a solution simply isn’t possible. Somehow Quartets – only that, not other poems by Eliot or any other poet – inspires me, or at least gives me hope that anything is possible.
I was meditating on these three lines when the phone rang. I was sitting at my desk with my back to my picture-window overlooking the Buenos Aires municipal golf course in Palermo Park. I can’t face the park while working because its beauty distracts me. Anyway it was foggy, a common occurrence on autumn mornings, though the sun usually burns the fog away by mid-morning. I picked up the phone and swiveled around towards the park: “Hola”
“Mr. Roberto Fox, please?” a woman’s voice asked in English.
“One moment please, Mr. Fox, I’ll connect you to Ms. Gutiérrez.” Obviously an executive type too busy to dial her own numbers. Strike one. After a minute of The Four Seasons I was about to hang up when…“Mr. Fox?”
“Yes, I already said so.”
“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting; another call, very urgent, came just as we were trying to get you.”
“That’s okay,” I lied, “what can I do for you?”
“I’m Andrea Gutiérrez of the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation in Vienna.” She waited for me to react, but I didn’t. “Do you know about us, Mr. Fox?” She had a slight Spanish accent.
“Yes, you hunt Nazis. As far as I know Mr. Wiesenthal gave Mossad the tip that led to the capture of Eichmann in Buenos Aires in…when was it?”
“1963. Yes, you are informed.”
“Not really. I read The House on Garibaldi Street about the operation.”
“It’s very informative.”
“Again, what can I do for you, Ms. Gutiérrez?”
“I’ll be in Buenos Aires on Wednesday…” (it was Sunday) “…and I’d like to speak with you when I’m there.”
“About the possibility of you helping us…but I’d rather not go into details on the phone, if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind, except I’d like to know how you got my name and why you think I can or should help you.”
“Osvaldo Romberg gave me your name.”
“Osvaldo?” I said, becoming intrigued. He’d worked as an undercover agent for me back during my spook days. “I haven’t seen him in decades. Where is he now?”
“Israel, he’s a well known artist there.” Her voice was getting lower and her sentences shorter, so it was obvious that she wasn’t thrilled about giving any information over the phone. “Will you have some time for me on Wednesday, Mr. Fox?”
“Okay. What time?”
“No ishes, please.”
“All right. It’s La Pampa…”
“I know where it is.”
“Uh huh. And what else do you know about me?”
“I’ll tell you on Wednesday. Thank you.” (click)
I’d almost forgotten about Andrea Gutiérrez by Wednesday morning when I opened my appointments book and saw her name. I frowned, shrugged, laced up my running shoes, and took the squeaky elevator down the four floors to the exit, which opened right into the park. I started my leisurely jog around the lake in brilliant autumn sunshine, waving to the ducks who seemed annoyed that I had no tidbits to give them. At least fifteen girls in shorts, jiggling tits and ponytails overtook me like fillies passing an old dray horse – some twice. I was used to it.
I almost knocked down our portero when I pulled up at the entrance to my apartment building. “Buen dia, Don Roberto,” he said, exuding the odor of last night’s wine and garlic. “Still running, I see.” He thought I was mad for wasting all that energy for nothing.
“Buen dia, Julio,” I answered. “Yes, and someday I’ll get where I’m going.” He laughed, more convinced than ever of my insanity.
I checked the web and found that the Wiesenthal Foundation had an office in Buenos Aires, so why the hell were they calling me from Vienna – and why were they calling me at all? Forget it and concentrate on your work, I told myself. Reading Four Quartets the day before had gotten me over a bump in imagination and I was sailing through the pages of my book. After a few hours I called it a day (I’m no workaholic) and walked over to an Italian restaurant on Avenida Libertador, where I indulged in a delicious dish of mostacholes and a small bottle of Santa Julia Malbec red wine. Then I strolled back home and read some Dostoyevsky in bed as preparation for my daily siesta. I remembered Ms. Gutiérrez though, and set the alarm for 4:30.
At six o’clock I was still reading Dostoyevsky and sipping mate tea through a bronze straw when the phone rang. “The airport was fogged in,” Andrea Gutiérrez said rapidly without identifying herself. “We were diverted to Sao Paulo, then there was a mechanical problem. I just arrived. I'm in the airport I can be at your place in a half hour.”
“Forty-five minutes would be more like it,” I said, “but you must be exhausted.”
“I am, but I must see you today.”
“Okay, I’ll be waiting.”
It was worth the wait. She was certainly exhausted, but she’d obviously done the best she could in the airport ladies’ room before taking a taxi for the long drive to the city. She was about thirty, maybe a bit more, had long black hair parted in the middle, large black almost unblinking eyes, very thin with no breasts to speak of, and quite beautiful in a Latin way, which is my favorite way.
“Máte?” I asked, offering her the gourd.
She frowned. “I could really use a cup of coffee, Mr. Fox.”
“It’s instant,” I warned, “but good instant. Milk? And let’s drop the formalities; I’m Roberto.”
“I thought you were American.”
“Right, but everyone calls me Roberto here.”
“Oh, like in For Whom the Bell Tolls?”
“Something like that, but I don’t wear a hat.”
“Black, please, one sugar.”
The fog had cleared by midday, so I could watch the golfers from the kitchen window while waiting for the water to boil. I promised myself for the umpteenth time to take up the game someday.
“So, Andrea, I ask you once more: What can I do for you?”
She lifted her attaché case onto her lap, clicked the fasteners but didn’t open it. “We’d like you to find someone for us.”
I lifted my eyebrows as though surprised. “Some Nazi?”
“Yes, his name is Walter Kutschmann.”
“And why do you want me, of all people, to find him?”
She crossed her legs, shapely ones by the way, and flipped up the attaché lid. “Osvaldo Romberg told me you were an airline investigator and are now a private detective.”
“As I already told you, Andrea, I haven’t seen Osvaldo in a dog’s age, so he’s not up to date. It’s true that I was an investigator for the International Air Transport Association and that I was a private detective. But now I’m neither.” I smiled, if you can call what my face does a smile. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Oh? Are you retired then?”
“I took early retirement from IATA, saved something of the detective income, and along with the pittance I earn as an author, I get by quite well here because of the favorable exchange rate.”
“I see, but…”
“Hold on. You’re getting my whole bio and I don’t know anything about you.” she didn’t like that, I could tell.
“What would you like to know?” she said.
“Are you Jewish?”
“Are you using your real name?”
She didn’t answer right away, probably deciding whether to act offended or not. Finally she smiled. “Why do you ask that?” as though it were a ridiculous question.
“Gutiérrez is a fairly common name around here, I know a half dozen, and none of them are Jews. Are you Israeli?”
“Yes, and my name is Sara Romberg. Satisfied?”
“Ah - related to Osvaldo?”
“Wonderful. Why the phony name then? Wait, let me guess: Mossad.”
“Wrong. Simon Wiesenthal Foundation.”
“One doesn’t necessarily preclude the other.”
“Yes it does,” she said. “We stay as far away from Mossad as possible.”
“In order to stay out of trouble?”
“Yes, and for public relations reasons, especially since Eichmann. Also, Mossad has other priorities now.”
“That I can believe – like Palestine, Iran, not to mention Washington. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the Washington bit.”
“Why? It’s true. We must remain above suspicion. When we find out where a Nazi is we notify Germany first, then the country where his crimes took place, which could be Germany, Poland, Russia, France, etcetera.”
“What about the country he’s in?”
“Depends on the country and if there’s already a warrant out for his arrest.”
“Depends. Look Roberto, can we get to the point?”
Now it was my turn to smile, inwardly at least. I was no longer controlling the conversation, which was unusual, but what the hell, I like change. “Sure, shoot.”
She sighed histrionically. “Thanks. Are you willing to help?”
“Good question. Now here’s mine: Why should I?”
“We’ll pay you of course.” This was getting serious.
“Do you know T.S. Eliot, Sara?”
“She frowned. “Some.”
“April is the cruelest month.”
“Right, very good. It’s April, when I’m especially susceptible to cruelty, so…”
“What could be crueler than the holocaust?”
“Good point. What did this guy … Kutch…what?”
“Kutschmann, Walter Kutschmann.”
“What did he do?”
She finally opened the attaché-case and took a file out, then closed the case and placed it on the table. “Gestapo SS-Untersturmführer Dr. Walter Kutschmann,” she read from the file, “responsible for the murder of twenty Polish professors and their families in Lemberg in 1941, as well as having participated in the murder of several thousand Jewish inhabitants of the cities of Brzezny and Podhajce…” She handed me two sheets of paper. “Here’s his biography.”
“Nice guy,” I said after having read it. “He deserted to Spain in 1944. How do you know he’s in Argentina?”
“Mr. Wiesenthal found out. I think he just guessed, because as you must know Argentina is a favorite postwar Nazi destination. He checked with a source in Rome, who advised him that Kutschmann obtained a Vatican passport and an Argentine visa in 1946, both under a false name.”
“That would make it too easy,” she said wryly. “We don’t know.”
“How do you know the source is reliable then?”
“She always has been. You mentioned Eichmann.
“But that was a Mossad operation.”
“Our source is well connected to the German community in Spain, and used to give the information to Mossad when they were still interested. As I already told you, they aren’t any more. So she came to us.”
“So what she knows is hearsay.”
“Very reliable hearsay, yes”.
“Together with Wiesenthal’s intuition.”
She stared at me for a good minute, then said, “Simon Wiesenthal is a great man. I’ll tell you a story about him. His friend, also a former Mauthausen concentration camp inmate, related it to me. They were together at the friend’s house. He had become a well-to-do jewelry manufacturer. After dinner he said, ‘Simon, if you had gone back to building houses, you'd be a millionaire. Why didn't you?’ ‘You're a religious man,’ replied Wiesenthal. ‘You believe in God and life after death. I also believe. When we come to the other world and meet the millions of Jews who died in the camps and they ask us, What have you done? there will be many answers. You will say, I became a jeweler, another will say, I have smuggled coffee and American cigarettes. Another will say, I built houses. But I will say, I did not forget you.’ Simon Wiesenthal has very good intuition.”
I had already more or less decided to do what I could for these good people, but a couple of things still bothered me. I said, “Okay, Sara, maybe I can help you, but I still have two questions.”
“Yes?” she said, leaning forward as if I had already accomplished something.
“Why the false name if you’re only representing Wiesenthal?”
“She smiled, obviously relieved. “It’s not false. I was born in Argentina as Andrea Gutiérrez because my father, when arriving here before the war without documents, told the immigration people his name – Georg Romberg – but the clerk didn’t understand him, or didn’t want to, so he wrote Jorge Gutiérrez on the entry document he gave my father. So that was our name until we emigrated to Israel, when I was a child, where we got back our identity.”
I nodded, having heard stories like that before. “Are you still an Argentine citizen?”
“Yes, I have both passports. And you, Roberto? Fox could be a Jewish name.”
I thought of something I hadn’t thought of in decades. “There was a rumor that a great-grandfather was a Jewish money lender – a fox – in Liverpool, but my father vehemently denied it.”
She laughed, flashing uneven but sexy teeth. Can teeth be sexy? “Good, then you have motivation. What else do you want to know?”
“Going back to the ‘why me’ question. That I was with IATA and a private investigator, and that I was recommended by Osvaldo Romberg, still doesn’t seem sufficient motive for you, and Mr. Wiesenthal with his excellent intuition, to be so anxious to employ me for this particular job.”
She seemed to be ready for that one, too. “You speak German, even translated a book from German to English when you lived in Germany.”
“You have done your homework. Yes, Das Mikado Projekt, it became a best seller, much to everyone’s surprise. But I had done the translation for a small fixed fee, so that didn’t help me much. I also wrote the screen play and acted in the German film and insisted on a share of the profits. It flopped.” We both laughed.
“Anything else?” I insisted. “Speaking German is helpful, but still…”
“There is something else,” she interrupted, “the most important thing about you, Roberto.”
“You have contacts with the German community here.”
“The Rudolf Steiner Schule, for example.”
“Oh that. But no, I have no direct contact with the school; I only know a few anthroposophists, who can hardly be called Nazis. In fact…”
“…where a certain Jessica Kutschmann, former Hitler-Jugend group leader, teaches physical education. Do you know her?”
I was stunned. “No, I don’t know any teachers at the school. She must have been very young.”
“Yes, they were all mostly very young. But it’s not about her.”
“So you think she’s related to Kutschmann. Or do you know it?”
“We’re not sure, but the name is not common. And there’s a resemblance.”
I knew – and still know – a few Germans here in Argentina because I used to live in a Buenos Aires suburb, Florida – pronounced Flor-eee-da – where many German immigrants settled during and after the war, including some Nazis and some Jews, who seemed to get along quite well there. Occasionally I would stop off in a bar-restaurant ostentatiously named “Maxim”, owned and run by Heinz, a professional waiter, conscript in the German army during WWII, who had surrendered to the Americans in Italy and subsequently worked as a bartender-waiter in an NCO club, during which time he also met, impregnated and wed his Italian wife, Venusia. He considered the American army to be the best employer he ever had, but was laughingly critical because they kept encouraging him to escape. He did, finally, but not to a hungry Germany-in-ruins. He stowed away on an Argentine ship. On arrival in Buenos Aires he stood in line with the crew, who had fed him during the journey and taught him the only Spanish word he knew: tripulante (crew), which got him off the ship in Buenos Aires with nary a nod from the migrations official. After working for a year as a waiter in a German restaurant, he sent for Venusia and the daughter he had never seen. Happy ending: “Maxim”, where Venusia was the cook and had to learn to prepare Eisbein mit sauerkraut for the German customers, despite considering it barbaric.
Eichmann (using the alias Clement) had been a customer there, according to Heinz, but he always ordered a bottle of cheap wine and a Schnitzel and sat in a corner by himself reading the Freie Presse, Buenos Aires’s fascist newspaper. In my time, a couple of years later, the bar customers were mostly Germans who had prospered in Argentina as businessmen; the only exception being an alcoholic former U-boat commander. I rather liked going there to practice my rusty German, and they liked having a real-life American to berate for stupidly letting the Russians take half of Europe. I couldn’t help agreeing with them, but my counter-argument that they had only themselves to blame was hard to rebut.
One longtime resident was a philosopher of sorts and we had interesting discussions about politics, religion and life in general. He was a pragmatist and called me a romantic. He went so far as to suggest that I meet up with the anthroposophists, who held similar outlandish views.
“Ah, here’s one now,” he exclaimed one evening. A thin elderly man, slightly stooped, had entered with a younger woman who had oriental features. The philosopher introduced them as Herr und Frau Kunst, and suggested to Herr Kunst that they invite me to their table as someone who was almost as crazy as they. He said it with a big smile and the couple laughed. “We’ll find out which of us is crazy on the other side,” Herr Kunst retorted. The philosopher laughed, shook hands with them, said, “Indeed we will, if there is another side,” tipped his hat to me and left.
“Please do join us, Herr…Sorry, I didn’t get the name.”
“Fox,” I said, “but I don’t want to intrude.”
“Not at all, we are always glad to have a guest for lunch, and our philosopher friend must have had a reason for suggesting it.”
Once seated, they both ordered pasta, and I followed suit. “Frau Venusia makes excellent Italian food, which in any case is better than the German,” Frau Kunst said.
“Yes,” her husband agreed, “and it’s because she puts her heart into it.” Then, looking at me with clear blue eyes, “I detect an accent, Herr Fox. You are not German, I presume.”
I told him how I had learned German when I was stationed in Germany in the U.S. army. I didn’t mention my previous studies in German and Russian at the Army Language School in Monterey. Herr Kunst congratulated me, saying that few Americans learned German. “I’ve never been able to completely master German grammar, though,” I said, “which is tortuous.”
“You do very well,” Frau Kunst objected. “Gunther and I are still struggling with Spanish after all these years.”
Cutting off the small talk, Gunther Kunst asked me why the philosopher had initiated our meeting. “Why are you almost as crazy as we?”
“He said I should meet the anthroposophists because I’m a romantic – according to him.”
“I see. So you’ve never heard of anthroposophy or Rudolf Steiner?”
I admitted my ignorance of the subject so they invited me to participate in a study group in their home. Normally I would have begged off, but the conversation leading up to the invitation interested me. Apparently this Steiner was an occidental initiate who coalesced the eastern philosophy of reincarnation with western science and Christianity and founded a movement called anthroposophy. I had been going to the meetings for over a year prior to Sara Romberg’s arrival on the scene. That was what she called my “contacts in the German community”. I would have laughed at her when she said that, for the people in my study group, despite being German, were certainly not connected with Nazis. In fact, anthroposophy had been banned in Nazi Germany and Gunther Kunst, it turned out, was Jewish. Except for one thing.
One of the members of the group was Wolfgang Kleinhuber, director of Osram, a large German electrical appliances company, in Argentina. One evening I asked Frau Kunst to call a taxi for me because my car was being repaired in a garage. Kleinhuber offered to drop me off at home as we were going in the same direction. On the way we stopped in a café on Avenida Libertador. Kleinhuber, knowing that I had worked for IATA, wanted to ask me a few “technical” questions.
Kleinhuber wanted to know if sales agents – passenger and cargo – received different levels of commission from the airlines depending on their production, and if such “over-commissions” were passed on to the agents’ clients. Easy question, easy answer: yes. So it is obviously beneficial for a client, especially a large company, to buy transportation from a good producing agent. Then he asked me if I knew the agency “All-Ways”. I did of course, and told him that they were one of the largest producers in the country.
“They’re Jews, aren’t they?” Kleinhuber asked matter-of-factly. I answered affirmatively in the same manner.
He studied his coffee-cup a moment, then asked, “Are they reliable?”
“As far as I know, yes. Why do you ask?”
“Well, we’re thinking of changing agencies and All-Ways has been recommended. But my sales manager is reluctant. He has a thing about Jews.” He shrugged, smiling.
“I would think it would be the other way around.”
“What do you mean?”
“That they’d have a thing about Germans.”
The sarcasm rolled right off him. “No, I understand they give a lot of business to Lufthansa.”
“Well, you’re the boss,” I said, “not him.”
“True, but a sales manager must sell, and mine is very good.” He looked down at the table as though thinking. “His sister is a teacher at the Rudolf Steiner School in Florida.” Kleinhuber meant that as some kind of recommendation, I guess.
“I think I’ll have a beer,” I said. “How about you?” The subject as making me thirsty. We ordered a bottle of Heineken. After the first glass, Kleinhuber invited me to lunch at the German club the following week, wanted me to meet his sales manager. The German club was the last place I wanted to have lunch, but the dangling strings were coming together in a way which made it impossible for me to refuse.
The German Club in Buenos Aires looks like it had been transplanted directly from Prussia in the nineteenth century. When I arrived I saw Kleinhuber leaning against the bar talking with a guy I assumed to be his Sales Manager.
“Sorry I’m late, Wolfgang,” I lied, “got caught in traffic.” It was only ten minutes after the agreed time, which for Argentines is early, but for Germans is late.
“Not a problem, Roberto,” he smiled. "I’d like you to meet Pedro Olmo. Pedro, Roberto Fox.”
The other guy turned to face me. He was tall and well built, around sixty, obviously in shape, graying black hair brushed straight back, bushy eyebrows and a mouth cum protruding lower lip which seemed too low for his face, immaculately dressed. He bowed slightly and said, “Sehr angenehm.” He may have been pleased to meet me, but his unsmiling face didn’t show it. I assumed they had been talking about Kleinhuber’s interest in using All-Ways as Osram’s travel agency and his sales manager’s aversion to the idea. And I was there to convince him.
“What will you have to drink, Robert”? Kleinhuber asked.
“Is that sherry you’re drinking?”
“Yes, excellent Spanish sherry,” Pedro Olmo replied in excellent German. Pedro Olmo? So what? I told myself. Argentina has a large German-Argentine community and many second generation Argentines speak fluent German.
I ordered the same and we engaged in small talk about the traffic and Argentina’s chances to win the World Cup, then moved to our reserved table. The waiter was Argentine, so we ordered in Spanish. Pedro Olmo’s accent was thicker than the steak he ordered. Having consumed his bife de lomo and quite a bit of German white wine, Olmo opened up a bit. He thought that Argentina’s team was very good, but undisciplined; therefore he was betting on Germany. He even smiled, something he did with a certain charm. I told them I liked Brazil, which shut them up. Personally I neither like soccer nor understand it, but during many years living among fanatics I’d learned that everyone loves Brazil’s imaginative soccer, whether they win or lose.
Finally Kleinhuber came to the point. “Robert, you know the agency All-Ways. We’re thinking of changing agencies and would like to know what you think of them – if you don’t mind of course.”
Had he really not told Olmo of our previous conversation? I pretended to think about it, then said, ”Well, I only know them professionally, but I can safely say that they have a successful business with many important clients.”
“I understand that the owners are Jews,” Olmo said, coming right to the point.
“Not only the owners,” I said, “but most of the employees as well.”
“Do you think they would like working with Germans?”
“Oh,” I asked innocently, “are you German?...I mean the name…”
“Many people ask that,” Pedro Olmo said, smiling. “You see, my father was Spanish and my mother German; I was born in Spain but grew up in Germany. Are the All Ways people German Jews?,” he asked, getting off the subject of himself.
“The owner, Saul Gurfein, although he has a German name, came originally from Russia I think. So we have two cases in which the name doesn’t tell the real story.”
“You both have German names and yours from Spain and his from Russia.”
“Oh yes, a coincidence.”
“What about prices, Robert?” Kleinhuber said. “Do you think that they would be cheaper?”
I repeated what I had already told Kleinhuber about over-commissions for Olmo’s benefit. I added that Lufthansa probably paid them even more over-commission than other airlines because they were interested in penetrating the Jewish market. “Jews have been reluctant to fly on Lufthansa, and they want to change that.”
“Indeed? Why should they want to change it?” Olmo asked with an arched right eyebrow, I pretended not to get it.
“What do you mean?”
“Pedro has had some unpleasant experiences with Jewish business men,” Kleinhuber tried to explain, “that’s all." He turned to Olmo: "But there are all kinds of individuals, and if Herr Fox recommends these people, I think we should try them.”
“You’re the jefe,” Olmo said, “but please remember that I must deal with them.”
“And I think that will do you good, help you get over some of your prejudices.”
Olmo glared at his boss, looked like he would continue to argue, thought better of it and said, “Perhaps you’re right. Would you like to bet on the World Cup, Herr Fox?”
“Sure,” I said, anxious to get away. “I’ll take Brazil.”
“And I Germany,” Olmo said. “How about you, Wolfgang?”
“Argentina,” Kleinhuber said. “And the winner will pay for lunch at the Club.”
Olmo laughed, I grinned. “Gut, Wolfgang,” he said. “I’ll be glad to pay for betting on Germany’s honor – and winning.”
“This guy Pedro Olmo is as German as they come,” I told Sara Romberg, “and has an unbelievable story about his father being Spanish and his mother German.”
“It’s possible,” she interrupted.
“Anything is possible. That’s not the point.”
“Sorry I interrupted,” she said. “What were you about to say?”
“You told me that Jessica Kutschmann is a teacher at the Steiner School.”
“Pedro Olmo´s sister is also a teacher at that school,” I said.
Her eyes widened and she smiled for the first time since I'd met her.
“Wow! We're getting close, Roberto,” she said. “If it is him, do you think Kleinhuber knows?”
“I don’t know. But an innocent German doesn’t change his name for nothing. Is there any chance of finding out the name on the passport the Vatican gave Kutschmann?”
She shook her head. “No, once they realized we were getting information from them, St. Peter closed the door to those archives and threw away the keys.”
“…to the kingdom?” I added. “Sorry. How about Kutschmann’s fingerprints?”
We were sitting on my balcony with the light of a full moon filtering threw the high plane trees. Sara had come in a tight-fitting dress with a Chinese slit on the side. She looked much more appetizing than when I first met her fresh off a long-haul flight; more so even than the excellent pasta with mushroom sauce we had just finished. She took a sip of wine and thought for a moment. I was somewhat in love with her and she was, I could feel, ready to reciprocate. Whether it came to anything or not has nothing to do with this account, so I’ll leave you to guess.
“If we don’t already have them, we can get them,” she said. “Do you have Olmo’s prints?”
“I’m not a magician, but he might be an Argentine citizen.”
“He almost certainly is,” she confirmed. “These people want to get rid of the Vatican passports as quickly as possible.”
“Right, good. So we can get his prints and match them with Kutschmann’s.”
It’s not what you know around here.” I looked at my watch. Midnight. Perfect. I brought my wireless phone to the table and dialed Comisario Alberto Contreras’ number. His wife answered and I could hear a soccer game in the background on TV. After exchanging pleasantries she called Alberto to the phone.
“Damn it, Zorro, can’t a guy have some peace in his own home,” he growled. Ever since he discovered that my name means zorro in Spanish, he loved to throw it at me when he was in a good humor.
“I know you’re bored sitting there watching the idiot tube, my contrary friend, so I’m going to give you something interesting to think about.”
“Go ahead and ruin my day.”
Alberto is my contact in the Argentine Federal Police – a very good cop and an honest one. When he works with me he gets credit for the arrest, if there is one, and cash when I’m paid for my efforts, which isn’t always the case. “How’d you like to hunt a Nazi?”
“How’d you like to leave me out of politics for a change?”
“That’s no answer.”
“What have you got, Zorro?”
First I told him what Kutschmann had done in Poland.
“A prick,” was his only comment.
Then I gave him an abbreviated version of what I knew about Olmo.
“So what do you want from me?”
“Pedro Olmo is a naturalized citizen. Therefore, since the Federal Police – that’s you – issues identity documents and passports, you should have his prints on file.”
“Do you have Kutschmann’s prints?”
“Not yet, but I will.”
“I got news for you, Roberto,” he said. “Those Nazi pricks got protection here; the bigger the prick the better the protection.”
“I don’t doubt it, Alberto, nor do I want to make it too easy for you.”
“Gooooool!” screamed the TV. “Wait a mo,” screamed Alberto. He was back in a few seconds. “Bueno, give me the prick’s full name and whatever else you got,” he said happily. Argentina must have scored. I nodded to Sara and smiled. She smiled back and placed her warm hand in mine.
The Wiesenthal Foundation didn’t have Kutschmann’s prints, so Wiesenthal had to use his influence to get them from the Nazi archives in Bonn. The bureaucracy there doesn’t give anyone anything without a court order, which is time-consuming. Wiesenthal threatened the Justice Minister with complaining to the press that the government was protecting war criminals, and he got what he wanted schnell! Alberto Contreras used similar tactics to obtain Pedro Olmo’s prints. To no one’s surprise, they matched.
“The fucking Germans gotta ask us officially,” Alberto told me, “first to arrest the guy we know as Pedro Olmo, then request extradition. They know how to do it through the German embassy here.”
They knew how, but they didn't do it. Andrea Gutiérrez made sure that the German embassy in Buenos Aires was informed. They then had to send all the evidence to Bonn that Walter Kutschmann, aka Pedro Olmos, wanted by the German Ministry of Justice for war crimes, had been positively identified. But the German embassy was without an ambassador at the moment, and the next highest diplomat, a guy named Werner Graf von Schulenburg, sat on the file for a week before asking the foreign office in Bonn for instructions. By the time Bonn answered Kutschmann was long gone, warned by someone in the German embassy or the Argentine police, or both. The pressure from his friends in the fascist Argentine military establishment was too great for Alberto Contrera's superiors.
When it was clear that Kutschmann was gone and the Argentine authorities had no interest in finding him, I sat with Alberto Contreras in a café in La Boca and listened to his lament. “That guy's got too many friends in high places, Zorro. Don't ask me why, I don't know. I do what I'm told when this political crap is involved. They tell me stop, I stop. Sorry.”
In case you're curious about Andrea Gutiérrez-Romberg and me, our relationship was intense but brief. I tried to convince her to stay with me in Argentina, but she was a woman with a mission: hunting Nazis. And although Argentina was a good hunting ground, her head office was in Vienna and her heart was in Israel. She didn't have a third leg so our love kindled, flared and, as absence doesn't really make the heart grow fonder, finally burned itself out.
This story is fiction, but based on facts. Walter Kutschmann was arrested by the Argentine police in 1975 and later released because of Germany’s delay in requesting his extradition. He subsequently disappeared, but remained in Argentina. He died of natural causes in Buenos Aires many years later.
This is the title story of an Amazon kindle ebook of short stories by the same author. Click: To Hunt a Nazi - Messages from Argentina.