Chapter 11: Argentina
By December 31, 1941, most Parisians had gotten more or less used to German occupation, and some even accepted it as the new normal—the way it was, and was likely always going to be. A happy populace would benefit the Germans, especially the Propaganda Ministry. For this reason, Goebbels became personally involved with planning the event. Maria and I were official hosts, but the Nazis were determined to make sure the party was a success. My job, which I delegated to Drago, was to invite as many influential Parisians as possible.
Maria contacted Collette, the cute young girl who had worked for her in La Boutique Maria before the invasion, and instructed her to make a list of as many young men and women as she knew, and they would be invited to this spectacular gala.
But unfortunately, all but a few Parisians boycotted the gala. Despite the enormous amount of money spent on promoting the event, the decorations, and the entertainment, it was a flop. Germans occupiers outnumbered the Parisian guests by ten to one, at least. The worst part about it was that Maria and I were now looked upon as Nazi collaborators. Little did they know how much we despised the Nazis, but there was our name, printed on invitations that were mailed to everyone who was anyone.
More than a few Nazis made a point of letting me know that they were disappointed at my inability to draw a crowd of Parisian socialites. What did they expect? First of all, I was an unknown, Italian American immigrant, married to a simple Sicilian girl, in a town occupied by the most hated people on Earth.
Even Collette failed to show. She gave Maria a weak excuse, too weak to even recall. Drago’s friends didn’t show either. The Parisian women that attended the party were labeled as whores and became shunned by the civilian population; so much for Maria and I being the toast of the town.
Once I recovered from my hangover, it was time to get back to work. Carlos was successful in getting Vito and the real Lucky to agree to have a meeting in which Albert Anastasia would be there on behalf of Lucky. I emphasized to Carlos, “Don’t send any Jews this time or the deal may fall apart once again.”
Himmler ordered Hans to protect me at all costs, and a call was made to Mussolini. The Italian Army had a small squadron at the airport to greet me and my Nazi protectors. There must have been two dozen agents with their eyes on me at all times. The meeting was held in Naples, at a small, discreet café in the heart of town. Vito, Albert, and I did not exchange small talk; we were all business.
“You caused a great deal of trouble, taking off with that money like that,” Vito began.
“That is why I am here; to rectify the situation.”
“I should kill you right here,” he replied.
“That would not be a good idea.”
Albert Anastasia spoke up. “Gentlemen. We are here today to determine the proper compensation owed to the aggrieved parties. If we can satisfy the financial concerns, then all personal problems will go away. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Vito nodded.
I looked Vito in the eye and asked: “Give me a number. What is it going to take to make things right with you?” It was easy for me to be brave; I had the full support of the German and Italian Armies watching out for my safety.
“Half a million dollars, American,” Vito said without hesitation.
That was a surprisingly low number. “How did you come up with that figure?”
“That’s my number.”
“OK, but would you accept twice that amount in British sterling pounds?”
Vito laughed as if it were the dumbest question that he had ever heard and said, “Fuck yes.”
Albert Anastasia laughed also and said, “I can’t wait to do business with you. I was going ask for half a mill also, but I want the same thing that Vito gets.”
I shook my head and agreed, but then said, “I don’t get it. I stole two million from you. What gives?”
Vito answered first. “You didn’t steal anything from me, except time. I had to sit on that shipment until Lucky could send someone with better sense than Ben to deliver the money.”
“Same here,” Albert added. “That was Mussolini’s money. Half was to go to Vito to pay for the goods that he was to deliver to America, and the other half was to go to New York to buy guns that would return on Vito’s empty cargo ship. We were out an opportunity, but we didn’t lose any direct cash.”
“Then who killed my mother?”
The two men froze. The silence lasted for several seconds, and then they both responded at the same time, stating that they didn’t know anything about that. I leaned back in my chair and thought for a second, asking myself: If not them, then who did it? Who was motivated to take revenge on me by killing my mother?
“I have a proposition for the two of you. I will give you one million British pounds each, today, to compensate for your past troubles. I will give you another one million British pounds each to do the same deal that was planned before. Vito, you deliver your product to my friends in New York, and in return, you bring back to this port two million pounds worth of high-quality armaments, to be turned over to Mussolini’s government.”
“You’ve got this all worked out?” Vito asked.
“How the fuck did you do that?”
“Yeah, how the fuck did you get to be friends with Mussolini, especially after you stole his money before?” Albert asked.
I waved over to Hans as was planned and said, “Don’t worry about it.”
Two Italian soldiers and two German SS walked over to the table. Two suitcases were placed on the table, one in front of Vito and one in front of Albert. Albert and Vito looked around. They could easily see half a dozen or more men who were obviously watching us, as my protectors. Some were wearing Italian military uniforms and some were wearing plain clothes, but all displayed rifles in plain sight. The message was clear: I had two armies backing me up.
“Your money is inside. You can count it if you like. Two million British pounds are in each case. If this goes well, you will have a repeat customer. If it doesn’t go well, then Vito, you may need to find a base in which to operate outside of Italy.”
Vito was flabbergasted. “I don’t know who you fucked or sucked to get this kind of power. I’ve been supplying Mussolini’s son-in-law with cocaine for years, and I don’t have this kind of clout.”
With my hand offering a shake, I said: “Then can we agree that the Luciano family is at peace with the Genovese family? And, Siegel, are we all good?”
“As far as New York is concerned, we are all family once again. Forget about Bugsy. He is in California, and won’t be involved to screw anything else up among us again,” Albert replied.
Vito agreed and we all shook on it. A handshake with a Mafia Godfather is a contract that one can count on more than anything written.
There was a time when I considered the Italian Mafia as the most dangerous criminal organization in the world, but they were Girl Scouts compared to the swastika-wearing bastards that had me by the balls. We agreed that it would take time, maybe a year, for the parties to provide the amount of product that this much money could buy, but my parting statement was intended to foster more activity, quicker: “If you know of any other investments that need funding, please give me the first opportunity. Nothing is too big.”
In a final show of pageantry, several armed men in plain clothes hurried from across the street toward us the moment we stood. Vito and Albert looked at me accusingly, and Albert asked, “What’s this?”
“Nothing to worry about. These men are simply here to protect me,” I replied as I walked away with the armed men surrounding me. They opened my car door for me and I slid inside. Hans was waiting for me in the back of the limousine, which was parked across the street where he could see and hear my performance. Still in his lap was the headset that had allowed him to listen to our conversation. He very pleased with my performance.
“Halt at the next phone booth, I must make a telephone call at once,” he instructed the driver. As per his instructions, he phoned Himmler to provide him with a report and to receive our next instructions. Hans got back in the car and looked at me and said, “Berlin, here we come.”
Please clarify for the court, you returned to Berlin in June of 1941?
“Yes. Six months had passed since the Mafia peace accord was struck in Naples. War fever had a firm grip on the whole of Germany, and in order for Hans the Scarface to keep a watchful eye over me, I had to operate from Berlin. He called early one morning and instructed me to be ready to be picked up by nine. “Dress formally,” he told me.
The meeting was held in a conference room at SS headquarters. There were a dozen participants sitting around the long table, counting me. Himmler was standing in front with another member of the SS, whom I didn’t recognize. His name was never mentioned, so I assume that everyone there—other than me—knew his name; I was the only non-German in the room. Himmler began by stressing the importance of keeping the existence of this high-level meeting top secret.
“The very existence of the organization must not be revealed to anyone outside of the highest levels of the SS, all of whom are in this room at this very moment.” Himmler then addressed me: “Herr Luciano, you are here because you can fill a necessary role in a very important operation that is designed to insure the permanency of the Reich. You are hereby ordered to give your loyalty to this group and swear an oath of silence on the life of your pretty wife.”
The man standing next to Himmler motioned for me to join him at the front of the room. He placed a Bible in the podium and required me to repeat the solemn vow with one hand raised and the other on the Bible. It seemed at first completely unnecessary, for the remainder of the meeting was in German, which I knew very little, until Himmler summarized the meeting in English for my benefit.
“There is no doubt that Germany will win the war, but our job at the SS is to see that the Reich is prepared for any and all contingencies for its survival. One such contingency that all nations must prepare for is occupation by a foreign enemy, requiring the temporary relocation of government. The men inside this room are charged with this mission. You will help them by accompanying them to Argentina, where you will open a bank account in your name, make a substantial deposit of British pounds, and then you will purchase properties as directed. You will then be instructed to convey your properties to people and corporations that benefit our mission. As I’ve said, the very existence of this organization could be detrimental to the morale of the German Army and populace. You would be well advised to remember our conversation at Dachau. Your file states that you are fluent in English, Italian, and Sicilian. Can you understand Spanish?”
Himmler and the rest of the group were pleased to learn that I am fluent in Spanish. “Telephone your wife to let her know that you may not communicate with her for the next several months. There will be no international phone calls made by anyone in this group while in Argentina.”
The sense of urgency and secrecy led me to believe that Himmler thought Germany’s defeat was inevitable. Maria and I were sad to know that we would not see one another or even talk on the telephone for several months. We had seen one another for one weekend each month for the past six months. It made no sense to us that the SS required her to remain in Paris while I was assigned to Berlin, but the Germans always have a reason for everything.
Hans sat next to me on the plane to Rio de Janeiro. He explained that I was to play the role of a wealthy American businessman who was searching for real estate investment opportunities in Argentina.
“You have no interest in politics and you have never been to Germany. Your German escorts are your servants and bodyguards. You will hire some locals to serve these roles as well, so that you don’t draw attention to the fact that you only have German staff.”
I asked Hans why only six from the group of twelve were joining us on this trip. He explained, “This operation is bigger than Argentina. There must be escape routes, safe houses, transportation systems in place.” I asked him if he thought that German officials would have to use these escape routes. “No, but every government has contingency plans for such things. America is at peace, but the president of the United States has a bomb shelter under the White House.”
He made a good point, but the amount of resources that Germany expended in Argentina during a time of war said something different. Over the course of a year that I spent in Argentina, we purchased hundreds of homes, ranches, and even entire apartment buildings. More telling was the fact that there were already a hundred or so Germans, presumably Nazis, in Argentina developing a network. As far as I could see, we never met with any Argentine government officials. This was a silent invasion.
The most notable property that I purchased was the Hacienda San Ramón. Prior to the purchase, several high-ranking Nazis, mostly members of the SS, flew in to tour the Hacienda before the purchase. Strangely, one of them was Professor Hirt, one of the quack research doctors from Dachau. A group of us that included, among others, Hirt, an architect, an engineer, and a local contractor, toured the place. I served as interpreter, for the contractor spoke only Spanish. There were a lot of questions pertaining to electrical requirements and backup generators. Immediately after touring the Hacienda, we were taken by mule to a site high in the Andes Mountains. It was freezing cold even in July. Once again, Hirt and the engineers seemed to be mostly concerned with the ability to maintain electrical power at all times. The contactor’s answer each time was that it would be very expensive, but enough generators and backup generators could guarantee permanent power at all times even way up here in the Andes. We purchased the Hacienda and the remote property in the Andes. An Argentine lawyer created a trust for which I was instructed to convey these and other properties. The German architect presented the contractor with plans for building and renovating the Hacienda and building a compound in the Andes.
A lot changed during the year that we were in Argentina, but nothing was more significant than America entering the war. I was thrilled that Hans and I were ordered to return to Berlin. I missed Maria. While on the flight home, I asked Hans why Dr. Hirt would be interested or involved in building a compound way up in the Andes Mountains, and his reply was startling: “Something to do with freezing experiments. That’s all that I know.”