Denizens of Twitter are familiar with the cycle by now: President Trump does something — or is rumored to have said something — and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweets a clap-back, garnering a flood of left-wing support in the form of 🔥, 👏 and 💯 emoji, a flood of right-wing anger in the form of Breitbart and Daily Wire posts, and a boatload of historians shouting into the wind.
That’s what happened last month when Ocasio-Cortez called overcrowded Border Patrol facilities “concentration camps.”
The cycle started anew Sunday with a report that in the upcoming book “American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War”, Politico writer Tim Alberta claims Trump likened Ocasio-Cortez to Argentine leader Eva “Evita” Perón.
If true, it’s possible he meant it as a compliment. In his 2004 book “Trump: Think Like a Billionaire,” he said the Broadway musical “Evita” was his favorite, and he had seen it six times.
Ocasio-Cortez responded with two tweets containing pointed Evita quotes:
“I had watched for many years and seen how a few rich families held much of Argentina's wealth and power in their hands. So the government brought in an eight hour working day, sickness pay and fair wages to give poor workers a fair go.”— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 7, 2019
- Evita Perón
And yes, the right-wing bloggers typed out their rage posts. But instead of the usual celebratory retweets, Ocasio-Cortez encountered something she may not be accustomed to: criticism from the left.
Aura Bogado, an immigration reporter for Reveal, tweeted the word “no” 70 times in a row before explaining, “It’s hard to know where to begin with Evita’s horrid legacy but how about the part where she took gold stolen from Jewish families exterminated in actual concentration camps in exchange for allowing Nazi war criminals to live in Argentina? Don’t [expletive] sanitize her.”
Others were more brief in their criticism. Activist Charlene Carruthers said, “Yikes.” And cultural critic Sydette Harry, also known as Blackamazon, tweeted her shock with, “What in the entire [expletive]?!”
So is it true? Did Evita take Nazi gold stolen from Jews in concentration camps?
There’s no conclusive evidence proving it, said historian Marysa Navarro, co-author of the biography “Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron.”
One thing is for sure, though: her husband, former Argentine president Juan Perón, most definitely aided and abetted Nazis, including Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust, and Josef Mengele, who performed horrifying medical experiments on Jews in the camps.
Eva “Evita” Perón was born Eva Maria Ibarguren, the illegitimate daughter of a provincial leader named Juan Duarte. When she was still a teenager, she moved to Buenos Aires and found a modicum of fame as a not particularly good actress. She met Juan Perón, then a labor minister, at a gala in 1944, when he was 48, and she was 24. She soon became his mistress and hosted a radio show espousing his virtues.
In October 1945, Perón was arrested during a period of political upheaval in Argentina. Evita remained loyal to him and worked for his release — the effectiveness of her efforts is contested by historians. Still, he was released on Oct. 17 and married Evita the next day.
In 1946, he was elected president, and Evita became the first lady of Argentina. Through her foundation, she gave generously to the poor, earning a saintly status that endures to this day.
“Whenever you talk to a middle-class Argentine who doesn’t come from a middle-class family . . . they know that at one point, their mother or father ended up going to [Evita’s] foundation and requested something, and that’s the kind of thing that began to change their lives,” Navarro said.
But back to the Nazi stuff.
Like Switzerland, Argentina remained neutral throughout World War II, only joining the Allies in the dwindling days of the war. After the war, Perón allowed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Nazis to escape to his country, ignoring international authorities calling for their arrest.
That includes Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Holocaust. As The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson reported in 1992, Eichmann lived comfortably in a Buenos Aires suburb until 1960, when Israeli commandos kidnapped him. He was tried and hanged.
That also includes Josef Mengele, the so-called Angel of Death who experimented on captured Jews, and Joseph Schwammberger, who was responsible for the murder of thousands of Polish Jews. Schwammberger was finally extradited in 1990; Mengele evaded capture until his death in 1979.
And in the 2005 book, “The German Connection: The Laundering of Nazi Money in Argentina,” German journalist Gaby Weber wrote that it wasn’t just Nazis who flowed into Perón’s Argentina; it was also Nazi treasure. She found evidence of a money laundering scheme between Argentina and German companies like Mercedes-Benz, she said, which benefited financially during the Nazi era, even if they weren’t Nazi companies per se. And there’s evidence indicating Juan Perón took a cut, Weber told the New York Times.
It is unproven whether Evita had any knowledge of or role in this.
As recently as 2011, in their book “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Latin America,” Brazilian writers Leandro Narloch and Duda Teixeira wrote: “It is still suspected that among [Evita’s] possessions, there were pieces of Nazi treasure that came from rich Jewish families killed in concentration camps.” But Narloch and Teixeira provided no evidence for the claim.
Argentine journalist Jorge Camarasa told the Christian Science Monitor in 1997 that he had spent 15 years investigating Nazi ties to the Peróns. He suspected that Evita laid the groundwork for Nazis to escape to Argentina during her famed “Rainbow Tour” of Europe in 1947. Evita made an unscheduled stop in Switzerland, where she met with bankers and may have deposited Nazi bribes into a secret account, he claimed. “I found no documented proof that the Nazis paid the Peróns,” he admitted, “but there were many indications.”
Tomas Eloy Martinez, the former director of the Latin America program at Rutgers University, wrote in 1997 that Evita “played no part” in her husband’s Nazi harboring, and that her alleged complicity is just one of the many rumors circulated for decades by anti-Perónist politicians.
“The people that have mentioned those issues, they don’t worry about finding the proper sources,” Navarro, the biographer, said. “They don’t back up what they say.”
While Ocasio-Cortez may catch heat from the American left for giving Evita a platform, the Argentine first lady’s legacy is as strong as ever in her own country. In May, Argentines commemorated the 100th anniversary of her birth; former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is now running for vice president, called her “an inspiration.”
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