Argentina is to put its former health minister – who protected a Nazi war criminal – on its new 5,000 peso banknote.
Ramon Carrillo was Argentina’s first health minister from 1949 to 1954.
But he is well known for supporting Nazi ideals. Moreover, he signed a five-year contract to employ SS Dr Carl Vaernet, who had experimented on gay men in the Nazi’s concentration camps and then fled justice at the end of the war.
The Latin American chapter of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre strongly criticised the choice of Carrillo for the new banknote:
‘Carrillo, in addition to being an admirer of Hitler, created the concept of the “ideal soldier” who would reject conscripts who he considered as racial and gender “oddities”.
‘We emphatically reject the choice of such a character, that will sully Argentina with his image on its highest denomination banknote.’
Despite this, Argentina’s current health minister, Ginés González García, has praised Carrillo and defended his inclusion on the new banknote.
SS Dr Carl Vaernet and his anti-gay experiments
SS Dr Carl Vaernet was Danish and a member of Denmark’s own Nazi party. But his medical research was of dubious quality.
After the German Nazis invaded Denmark, he was keen to continue his research into hormones. In particular he wanted to ‘cure’ homosexuality.
And so he secured an introduction to SS Dr Ernst-Robert Grawitz. Grawitz was in charge of giving researchers access to the ‘human guinea pigs’ in the Nazi’s concentration camps, so they could use them for experiments.
Indeed Grawitz approved of Vaernet’s application and sent it to the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler for final approval.
In this way Vaernet secured a job at Buchenwald concentration camp from June to December 1944.
During that time he conducted cruel experiments on 17 gay male inmates. He forced them to undergo an operation with an artificial gland. At least two contracted infections that proved fatal.
Of course, much like modern-day ‘conversion therapy’, Vaernet’s experiments were merely cruel rather than effective. When his results proved inconclusive, he lost favor with his Nazi paymasters.
How Vaernet escaped justice
However, that wasn’t the end of the story for Vaernet.
After the war, the authorities arrested him in Copenhagen and interrogated him. The Danish authorities wanted to press charges for his role in the SS and the camps. But he faked a heart problem and escaped.
He fled to South America, initially to Brazil and then to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
At the time, Argentina was under the rule of populist leader Juan Perón. And he found an ally in Ramon Carrillo who supported him in continuing his research to eradicate homosexuality. Carrillo signed a contract in 1947 to allow Vaernet to continue his work for five years.
Meanwhile the Danish and Allied authorities knew he was living in Argentina. However, they made no attempt to extradite him to face war crimes charges. Possibly they supported his attempts to ‘cure’ homosexuality.
Many of the SS people involved in the concentration camps and other leading Nazis fled to South America around the same time. Most escaped justice.
Carrillo backed Vaernet’s attempts to stamp out homosexuality
Veteran LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell uncovered Vaernet’s story after extensive research starting in the late 80s.
He said: ‘Argentina is supposed to be a democracy. Why is it honouring a man who sympathised with Nazi ideas of eugenics and who sheltered and aided a Nazi war criminal?
‘Vaernet conducted experiments on gay prisoners in Buchenwald concentration camp, in bid to develop medical procedures to erase homosexuality.
‘He acted with the personal approval of the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Himmler, who was committed to the total elimination of what he denounced as “abnormal existence”.
‘Carrillo personally employed Vaernet, according to the contract they signed in 1947 to fund his “scientific specialism”, which was treatments and cures to stamp out homosexuality.
‘Carrillo must have been aware of the war crime evidence against Vaernet because it was reported in the media at the time and there were calls for him to be extradited to Europe to face prosecution.’
‘Never again’ means not commemorating someone with Nazi sympathies
Others have also condemned Argentina’s decision to honor Carillo, including the country’s Jewish community.
Moreover, Israel’s ambassador in Argentina, Galit Ronen, said on Twitter:
‘When we say “Nunca más” (“Never again”) in reference to the Holocaust, there is no point in commemorating someone who at least sympathises with this ideology.’
Meanwhile Vaernet’s grandson, Cristian Vaernet, who has previously expressed regret about his grandfather’s actions, said:
‘I hope that all the mistakes made will help our generation and those of the future to prevent crimes against humanity and the discrimination or persecution of people based on their religion, skin colour or sexuality.’
The story is another example of how LGBT+ people endured persecution not only under the Nazis but long afterwards.
You can discover the history of gay and lesbian victims during the Holocaust here. And here’s what happened to LGBT+ people after Nazi rule ended.