Paper Money

New Argentinian note triggers controversy about doctor featured

The Bank of Argentina’s new 5,000-peso bank note has created an uproar. The man depicted on the issue is a doctor that some believe espoused views supportive of Nazis.

Image courtesy of Argentina

When the Bank of Argentina announced the design of a new 5,000-peso bank note in April, it should not have been taken aback that one of its subjects would create an uproar.

More than a month after the announcement of the issue, an unsourced May 27 report on an Argentine website stated that President Alberto Fernandez decided to suspend production of the note.

Buenos Aires dealer Mariano Cohen confirmed to Coin World, “It seems that the $5,000 banknote will not be issued yet,” and that the anger in the Jewish community was part of the reason, but that the reason could also involve a political reaction against supporters of the Perons.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s under Juan and Evita Peron, Argentina was a safe haven for Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann, one of the major architects of the Holocaust. That one of the two doctors portrayed in the 5,000-peso note’s design, Ramón Carrillo, would provoke outrage in Argentina’s substantial Jewish community should surprise no one.

Carrillo was Peron’s minister of health from 1949 to 1954. He also, says the Latin American chapter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “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,’ and backed Josef Mengele’s experiments on Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz. He also provided refuge to the Danish fugitive and Buchenwald camp doctor, Carl Peter Vaernet, allowing him to continue experiments with homosexuals to ‘heal’ them.” The center added, “We emphatically reject the choice of such a character, that will sully Argentina with his image on its highest denomination banknote.”

La Nación wrote that the idea to put a pair of doctors on the new note was a result of the government thinking that in a time of pandemic it would be appropriate to pay tribute to figures in Argentine history who made a contribution to public health. The other doctor shown is Cecilia Grierson, the first woman to graduate as a doctor in Argentina.

The back of the note shows the ANLIS-Malbrán Institute, the public research organization that has been central in the fight against the pandemic.

The Buenos Aires Times describes Carillo as having a good reputation within the local medical profession. In addition to being Argentina’s first health secretary, he was a neurosurgeon, and was responsible for public health campaigns that helped to halve child mortality, eliminate malaria and diminish outbreaks of tuberculosis. A total of 244 hospitals were opened during his term as Health Minister.

Carillo’s relatives are fighting back against what they term a “smear campaign.” They say he was never a Nazi and had good relations with Israel. His grandson Facundo Carillo said, “My grandfather was one of the Peronist officials who most promoted the establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel.”

The Danish Nazi Dr. Vaernet’s family also tried to be helpful. His grandson Cristian Vaernet told the Times, “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 color or sexuality.”

The Central Bank informed La Nación that 20 million notes will be issued in June, 60 million in July, and the same amount in August and September. Each is worth the U.S. equivalent of about $73.

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