Nazi Tourism And Argentina’s Troubled Past

While officials in the Argentine city of Bariloche insist it was never a "Nazi refuge," a tidy little tourist business is growing around visits to local sites associated with Nazi war criminals like Mengele and Eichmann.

Along the roadside in Bariloche, Argentina.
Along the roadside in Bariloche, Argentina.
Claudio Andrade

BARILOCHE â€" The first time Nazi fugitive Joseph Mengele sat for his driving test in Bariloche, in southwest Argentina, he failed because he didn't know his way around and wasn't familiar with the city's street names.

Mengele registered for the test as Helmut Gregor, the name he used when he entered the country a decade earlier, on June 20, 1949. His identity card, issued by the Federal Police, was no. 3.940.484. But on his business cards, Mengele, also known as "Doctor Death" for his pseudo-medical experiments at the Auschwitz concentration camp, went back to using his birth identity (though he changed his first name to José) â€" a testament, perhaps, to how comfortable and at home he was beginning to feel in this lakeside city in the foothills of the Andes mountains. Officially, he was now Dr. José Mengele.

There are various testimonies and documents confirming the presence of this merciless Nazi criminal in and around Bariloche. One is the driving-test anecdote, which the head of the National Radio, Francisco Caló, told journalist Abel Basti. I myself have handled one of Mengele's business cards, as well as a black notebook with names of his contacts in Argentina and Chile, and a suitcase with seals and stickers from various hotels (including the Cabo de Hornos at Punta Arenas, Chile). These were some of the belongings Mengele left in the basement of a cottage in the Alto Valle part of Río Negro province.

Acknowledging the past

Bariloche is first and foremost a mountain resort city. But thanks to the post-World War II migration of Nazis to the area, it also developed something of a sinister reputation as a refuge for European fascists. Suspicions it had become their favored hideout were confirmed with the arrest in 1995 of another local resident, former SS captain Erich Priebke.

Despite this dual identity, it took the tourism industry 40 years to think of cashing in the city's unsavory past. As of last year, visitors can now take a "Nazi Tours," which consist of almost "secret" itineraries with very discreet advertising. The tours, nevertheless, have raised interest among independent travel firms and educational institutions from the United States and elsewhere.

Groups of students or simply curious people pay tidy sums of money for a "guided visit" that allows them to see first-hand where and how people like Mengele, Priebke or even, according to legend, Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun lived â€" if indeed they fled Berlin, as one version claims. In general, guided visits of between one and several days to the homes of former Nazis cost between 2,000 and 10,000 pesos ($212-$1,060). An ordinary though tailored, half-day tour to any place in Patagonia costs around 2,000 pesos, so the prices are not abnormal.

These days, international and local agencies offer visits to the "Nazi Bunker" or the remains of a presumed military fort built by Adolph Hitler fanatics on the outskirts of Bariloche. To the dismay of many locals, the site has become a reference point in histories of Nazism after Hitler.

Writer and journalist Abel Basti has sold some 50,000 copies of his Nazi Tourist Guide in Bariloche and surrounding areas, plus another 100,000 other books on theories about Hitler not committing suicide but living many years in Bariloche with Eva Braun, with whom he supposedly had two children!

A legacy that lives on

The list of criminals who were in this area is extensive, and does not so much end as start with Mengele. He was followed by a string of Nazis: Reinhard Kops, an intelligence agent blamed for the deaths of thousands of Jews in Albania and owner of the pretty Hotel Campana, which remains opens; Priebke, the SS captain sentenced for his role in the execution of 335 civilians in the Ardeatine massacre in Rome in 1944; Hans Rudel, Hitler's favorite pilot who joined the local Club Andino; Adolph Eichmann, one of the brains of the Third Reich, finally caught in Buenos Aires and kidnapped by Israeli agents; and Friederich Lantschner, gauleiter of the Austrian Tirol, among many others.

Photo of Joseph Mengele's Argentine ID document, 1956. Source: Wikipedia

For a while, at least, these former accomplices of mass murders lived in the Bariloche area as quiet residents and neighbors beyond reproach. Or perhaps not... Because the tensions around their past are like a dark stream running beneath the city's everyday existence. Some of the buildings, institutions and cultural aspects that best represent the local people, like the prestigious Primo Capraro college, the German Cultural Association, the Club Andino, the solid neatness of elegant city center homes, Bariloche's tasty cuisine and its reputed vocation for classical music, are a legacy of Germanic immigration.

"Nazism did not disappear off the face of the earth," says Basti. "It became something else. That is why we must rethink history and see how it affects us today. There are no Nazi officials in Bariloche, but their homes remain, as do their buildings and, in some cases, ideological marks."

In the city center and especially along Avenida Belgrano, there are quite a few houses inhabited by descendants of German, Swiss and Austrian migrants. There are also Frenchmen, Slovenes and Poles, though fewer in numbers. Kops's Campana hotel is on this street. Facing it is the home of Mairano Barilari, a physician said to have known Sigmund Freud and practiced hypnotism. This beautiful chalet may have been the setting of dinners attended by the Mengele and Eichmann families. The building is currently the starting point of any Nazi tour.

Historian and journalist Hans Schulz, one of the city's main biographers, says he too works "mainly with groups of tourists or students coming from North America." He believes these tours are useful for taking the sting and mystery out of this taboo subject, which middle class Argentines have long tried to ignore despite official records suggesting that as many as 100,000 Nazi refugees arrived in Argentina between 1945-1950.

When Priebke was extradited to Italy amid international commotion, the New York Times wrote that Argentines were loath to openly qualify Bariloche as a Nazi refuge. Local officials, the US newspaper wrote, believed it was unfair to label the city thus on account of a few of its residents. Since then, however, Bariloche has attracted even more interest. And now that it's finally starting to embrace its Nazi past, the city is attracting a some new tourist dollars as well.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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