What’s the deal with Argentina?

What’s the deal with Argentina?

Many Jews escaped to Argentina in the middle of the last century, and it now has more than any other Latin American country. Argentinian accents and melodies – and rabbis and cantors – have influenced Jewish life in North America for decades now. Once we get over the strangeness of Spanish first names joined with quintessentially Ashkenazi last names, we realized that they come from a Jewish culture not unlike ours.

In some ways, at any rate. In other ways, it is very different.

Many Nazis decamped to Argentina toward the end of the war. Chief among them, the supremely evil Adolf Eichmann, who was captured, taken to Israel, tried for crimes against humanity, and executed.

Later, during the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983, many people were disappeared, as the phrase went; many were pushed out of airplanes or met other terrifying fates. Jews were prime targets for disappearance. Jacobo Timerman, the journalist who wrote about the junta, suffered terribly for it, as his book, “Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without a Number,” described.

In March 1992, the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed. Twenty-nine people died. In July 1994, the local JCC, called the AMIA, also was bombed. Eighty-five people died, and more than 200 were wounded.

The history of the investigations into the bombings reads like a plot summary of an implausible down-market thriller. It seems that Iran is behind at least the AMIA bombing, but two decades of Argentinian presidents and their governments have twisted themselves into unbecoming knots to keep Iran out of it – and perhaps, at least it is alleged, have accepted huge amounts of money for so knotting themselves. There have been a few low-level arrests, but nothing more.

Recently, it seemed as if that status quo possibly might change. Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor assigned to the case after the last prosecutor was removed for corruption, was scheduled to show the country’s Congress evidence that he said would implicate President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and, with thudding irony, her foreign minister, Jacobo Timerman’s son Hector, in the cover-up. (See the story on page 28.)

Here is where we go from thriller to locked-room mystery. On Monday, Mr. Nisman, who was Jewish, was found dead in his room, a pistol next to his body. Government officials immediately said that he had killed himself – so very, very sad! they said – but much of the world, including most of the country’s Jews, disagreed. After all, Mr. Nisman had gotten death threats. There was no suicide note. There was no gunpowder residue on his hand.

We have no idea what happened. We know that life seldom resembles murder mysteries or thrillers. We know that many people died in the bombings, and that the murderers have gone unpunished. We mourn Mr. Nisman’s death, and we hope that his findings will survive him, and that eventually justice will prevail.