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Aspen’s twisted sister

Matt Zalaznick

There’s no excuse for Nazis.

What might have tipped off Aspen’s city fathers and mothers to the slightly tainted past of their new Argentinean sister city, Bariloche, is the town has its own guidebook to the homes of former Nazis – not many chambers of commerce can brag about that.

But perhaps that book is not one of the glossy marketing tools Bariloche uses to woo wealthy American ski resorts, even though the Argentinean town’s Nazi-coddling track record doesn’t seem to trouble the locals.



According to stories in the Aspen Times and the London Daily Telegraph, many folks down in this Patagonian town, even some Jews, remember the Hitler crowd – which may have included Angel of Death Joseph Mengele among its neighborly Nazis – as “pillars of the community.”

Maybe Mengele made house calls or served on the town’s planning and zoning commission. After all, Nazis are notoriously good at coming up with solutions.



And while the world was still seeking justice for some of the worst crimes in the history of mankind, Erich Priebke, an SS officer involved in the massacre of 335 Italians, was a well-liked delicatessen owner. Imagine the Gestapo-inspired customer service at that joint. “Uh, excuse me mein pastramifuhrer, I asked you to hold the mayo …”

Just a harmless case of stormtrooper turned Mr. Hooper. Fortunately, Priebke was extradited from his happy little Sesame Street and he’s now serving a life sentence on murderers’ row.

Among the many troubling things about this relationship is the blase reactions Aspen city officials had when asked by reporters about their new sibling’s romance with genocide.



Mayor Helen Klanderud rightly spoke about the sister city program’s focus on the future, but she then embarrassed herself by telling Aspen Times reporter Eben Harrel he had a “non-story” and “to resurrect something that’s nearly 60 years old is irresponsible.” Aspen’s ski resort is a little more than 60 years old.

So, by Klanderud’s reasoning, Elie Wiesel, Stephen Spielberg and those who built the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., are “irresponsible.” All that unseemly resurrecting they’ve been up to. Speaking of resurrections, so is Mel Gibson “irresponsbile” – the equally emotionally volatile events he reminded the world of are almost 2,000 years old. How reckless.

Aspen’s sister city coordinator, Griff Smith, also humiliated himself, telling the Aspen Times, “The only thing I find bothersome about this is that you would give this credibility by writing a story.”

Well, the Nazis are not lacking credibility. If the world found the Holocaust unimaginable when it was happening, few people would challenge the Nazis’ claim to brutality these days – except for maybe Mad Max’s denying dad. And exactly what did Griff Smith accuse the reporter of giving “credibility?” The snotty vitriol in his statement can only make one wonder.

Secondly, it’s troubling that Griff Smith doesn’t find harboring Nazis more “bothersome” than some reporter’s gauche questions about harboring Nazis.

There’s a lot of defensiveness coming from some of the city’s leaders over a subject that could have been stifled by a little sensitivity, maybe a comment or two saying, “Wow, that is awful that they provided a safe haven. We should have talk to them about that.” It would only be to the credit of Aspen, a city that has been forward thinking in so many other areas.

And while we won’t blame either Bariloche’s or Germany’s children for the sins of their ancestors, we could – as the mayor insists we do – focus more effectively on the future by examining the past – because this is not just any old past. It’s a past from which the world needs a powerful vaccination, not just numb prevarication from one of the world’s wealthiest towns.

The comments of Aspen are troubling because of what’s most frightening about this story. The reporter who wrote the story for the Daily Telegraph said, after several visits to Bariloche, he found the people there retain a lot of fondness for their Nazis and many of the residents, he added, don’t understand why the Nazis were arrested and taken away.

To ignore that is irresponsible.


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