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Elections in Chile: father’s Nazi past harasses presidential candidate Kast

The German father of the favorite presidential candidate to win the Chilean elections José Antonio Kast was a member of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party, according to a recently discovered document obtained by The Associated Press. The revelations appear to contradict the far-right candidate’s statements about his father’s military service during World War II.

German officials confirmed this week that an identity card in Germany’s Federal Archives reveals that 18-year-old Michael Kast joined the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) on September 1, 1942, in the height of Hitler’s war against the Soviet Union.

Although the Federal Archives could not confirm if Michael Kast was the father of the presidential candidate, the date and place of birth on the card coincide with those of Kast father, who died in 2014. A copy of the card, with the affiliate number 9271831 , was previously published on social networks by Chilean journalist Mauricio Weibel.

The appearance of the identity card is a new twist in a presidential election that both parties have described as a battle of extremism – between communism and authoritarianism – characterized by a constant flow of disinformation that has distorted the trajectory and the promises of Kast’s opponent’s campaign.

Kast, 55, a new GOP candidate, led the first round of the presidential election last month with a two-point lead over left-wing lawmaker Gabriel Boric, whom he will face in the second round on December 19.

A fervent Catholic father of nine, Kast has deep family ties to the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who came to power in a coup in 1973. His brother, Miguel Kast, was president of the central bank during the dictatorship.

“If (Pinochet) were alive he would vote for me,” Kast boasted during the 2018 campaign, in which he obtained 8% of the votes. “Now, if I had met him, we would have had a cup of tea at La Moneda,” the presidential palace.

During the campaign this year, he highlighted his conservative family values, attacked Haitian and Venezuelan migrants to whom he attributed the increase in crime, and called Boric a puppet of the Chilean communists.

It has attracted large sections of the middle class, fearful that Boric – a former leader of the student protests – would upset the three decades of economic and political stability that many Latin Americans envy Chile. To highlight those concerns, last week Kast traveled to Washington where he met with US investors and Senator Marco Rubio, the senior Republican on the subcommittee that oversees US relations with Latin America.

Some of his most radical supporters have launched an online campaign with a false tweet from Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, false allegations that migrants are manning the voting sites and a falsified medical report after Kast in a debate urged Boric to submit to a drug testing.

The most recent polls give Boric a slight lead, who has veered to the center to win the votes of those who fear a return to the country’s troubled past.

“This supports Boric’s presentation of the campaign as a dichotomy between fascism and democracy,” said Jennifer Pribble, an expert on Chile at the University of Richmond, about Kast Sr.’s trajectory in the war. “To the extent that Kast seems to hide an element of his family past, he supports that narrative.”

It is unclear if Kast was aware of his father’s NSDAP membership record. Carolina Araya, a spokeswoman for Kast’s campaign, refused to answer repeated questions from the AP on the matter.

But in the past Kast has angrily rejected allegations that his father supported the Nazi movement, saying he was a conscript in the German army.

“Why do you use the adjective Nazi?” Kast asked in a 2018 TV interview in which he said he was proud of his family.

“When there is a war and there is a mandatory enrollment, a 17-year-old or 18-year-old has no option to say ‘I’m not going’ because they do a military trial and they shoot him the next day,” he said.

There is no evidence that Kast participated in Nazi atrocities such as the extermination campaign of the Jews of Europe. But while military service was compulsory, membership in the Nazi party was voluntary.

Some Germans enthusiastically joined, while others did so to gain an advantage in a society in which huge sectors of public life had to agree with Nazi ideology from 1933 onwards.

“We don’t have a single example of someone being forced to join the party,” said Armin Nolzen, a German historian who has researched NSDAP affiliations extensively.

Kast joined the party in 1942, five months before his 18th birthday, the minimum age for membership. He was likely a member of the Hitler Youth for four years and would have been recommended by his district leader to join the party, Nolzen said. That year the party had 7.1 million members, approximately 10% of the population.

Michael Buddrus of the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History in Berlin said the importance of such young people joining the NSDAP should not be overestimated, but agreed that Kast would do so of his own free will.

Since he was enlisted in the military shortly after, the teenager may not have participated in a party rally or paid his fee.

“Whoever is a member of the party is a member of the party,” said Richard F. Wetzell, a researcher at the German Historical Institute in Washington. “Being a member of the party ties you to the party and its ideology although many possibly joined for purely opportunistic reasons.”

A 2015 book on Pinochet’s civilian collaborators by Chilean journalist Javier Rebolledo argues that Kast Sr. initially did not want to join the Nazi party, but was convinced to do so by a sergeant when he was being mobilized to the Crimean peninsula. Rebolledo in his book quotes the memoirs of Kast’s wife.

At that time the Battle of Stalingrad was fought, the turning point in the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany, which resulted in the death of some 2 million people and the local capitulation of Axis forces months later.

Towards the end of the war, Kast, mobilized in Italy, obtained a false identity document from the International Committee of the Red Cross, says Rebolledo.

After twice evading arrest by Allied forces, he returned to Germany and was discovered during the postwar period of denazification. But when he confessed his deception, a supportive prosecutor took pity on him and in recognition of his honesty burned his military papers, according to Rebolledo’s book.

Kast Jr. has accused the Chilean journalist of taking his mother’s memories out of context and distorting the facts to attribute sinister motives to his father’s wartime activities.

In any case, Kast emigrated to Chile in 1950, followed a year later by his wife and two older children, and settled in Paine, a rural area south of Santiago. From a small deli stall, the couple created a national restaurant chain and packaged meals factory.

A law passed by Congress in 1995 that granted citizenship to Kast Sr. highlights his Catholic roots and his “great spirit of social justice” that led him to build five chapels, hospitals and a youth center in addition to giving to his company’s employees , Cecinas Bavaria, the means to buy your homes.

But the success of the clan had its dark side.

According to Rebolledo, leftist agitators and peasants threatened to expropriate the family business during the socialist government of Salvador Allende. The day after Pinochet’s coup against Allende, the Paine police, acting in broad daylight, kidnapped the young activist Pedro Vargas, who had organized the Bavarian workers, as he stood in line to buy bread.

Amid the frenzy, the candidate’s brother, Christian Kast, then 16, distributed food to city police, according to his 2003 statement to investigators into Vargas’ disappearance. The next day he said that he went to a barbecue at the police station where he said he had seen a dozen detainees – Vargas was not among them – with shaved heads who were taken away, and they never appeared again.

A distraught relative of Vargas ran to see Michael Kast.

“I thought he was going to help us,” this person told the AP on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation five decades later. “But he told me, go home this is a war of life and death. I could not believe it”.

Today, a few kilometers from the home of the presidential candidate, the symbols of the passions that permeated Vargas’s short life – a book, the scale of justice, his dog – decorate one of the 70 mosaics in homage to each of the victims of this bucolic population that stands out for having the highest number of disappearances per capita in all of Chile.

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