On April 1st, 1971, Bolivian army officer Colonel Roberto Quintanilla Pereira ordered the execution of Che Guevara and allegedly cut off his hands. The American CIA stooge was killed by German socialist and guerrilla fighter Monika Ertl, dubbed “the avenger of Che Guevara.”
Monika was the daughter of a Nazi propagandist who fled to Bolivia. The family’s close friends were other Nazi fugitives such as Klaus Barbie, a Gestapo leader known as “the Butcher of Lyon.”
She rejected her father’s ideology and grew closer to the socialist cause, admiring the Cuban Revolution and especially the Argentinian commander Che Guevara.
After the US-backed Bolivian army killed Guevara in La Higuera, she joined the National Liberation Army of Bolivia (ELN).
In 1971, she returned to Hamburg where Che’s killer Roberto Quintanilla Pereira was stationed as a Bolivian consul due to fears that the ELN could target him for his involvement in Che’s death. There she personally shot Quintanilla three times and was able to flee, thus avenging the great revolutionary commander.
Monika was eventually killed in Bolivia by Special Forces on May 12, 1973. She was tortured and her body was never found.
She was dubbed “the avenger of Che Guevara” for her efforts, a name that would make headlines around the world.
Monika’s mother’s name was Aurelia. As is so often the case with women in history, there is no accessible knowledge about her. Her father’s name was Hans. At the age of 31, he was drafted as a war correspondent for Nazi Germany.
Later he was the personal cameraman of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Because of the general situation for him after the defeat of German fascism, he, like many other Nazis, wanted to take the opportunity and go to South America.
The Ertl family, Hans, Aurelia, Monika and their two sisters finally emigrated in 1952. They settled on a small farm in Bolivia called “La Dolorida.” Monika was 16 years old at the time.
While Bolivian culture was new to her, there was also a large community of wealthy Germans around her, including her father’s friend and war criminal Klaus Barbie.
She was her father’s favourite daughter and accompanied him on various filming expeditions. There she learned to move in more rural areas and also to handle firearms. Monika married a Bolivian-German mining engineer.
This resulted in a daily routine of taking care of the household, drinking tea, playing golf, organizing charity events, and so on.
Ordered around by her sexist and racist husband, who “(…) couldn’t stop comparing her to his mother,” she was naturally not at all satisfied with this kind of lifestyle.
In 1969, after 11 years of marriage, she finally made the big, radical turn in her life. She divorced her husband, cut all her ties with the upper class, and joined the Bolivian National Liberation Army (ELN), now calling herself “Imilla.”
So what kind of character does it take to make such a radical decision? What kind of experience and situation do you have to be in to make a 180-degree turn in your life? When you realize the dimensions of how profoundly society needs to be revolutionized, and therefore how profoundly you need to change yourself, you need to be able to commit yourself fully to this cause. You don’t make a revolution half-heartedly
In addition to Imilla/Monika’s strong character, there were several factors that led her to this decision.
Monika actually reached the position to which society had raised and pushed her. She was young, observant, well educated, and “looked beautiful.” She married into a wealthy family. Her husband owned a copper mine and had some influence and economic power.
It fell to her to support him in all aspects of daily life and to manage the household as best she could. An example of the strongly patriarchal environment in which she found herself is the story about the childless couple.
Her husband was infertile for biological reasons. When people began to question the couple, all the blame for the lack of children was falsely placed on Monika. In this society, where a woman’s worth is strongly measured by the number of children, especially boys, she gives birth to and raises, this is not an easy burden for her to bear.
Her marriage was by no means on equal terms. So even though she arrived at that point and fulfilled that role model by doing everything that was expected of her, she obviously could not become happy.
That was certainly a trigger for her to start questioning society and class so much. She realized that this simply could not be the life of freedom she dreamed of.
A big influence on her awareness of class struggle was certainly the fact that she lived with her husband very close to the copper mine he owned. She saw directly the great difference between the ordinary workers, the conditions under which they lived and, on the other hand, how she herself lived as a European lady in a well-protected, rich house. It was certainly not easy to have to realize how wrong this colonial reality was and to learn about one’s own racist thoughts and behaviors.
The need to deal with politics, with the affairs of ordinary people, to understand what concerns they have, is also related to her father’s story. Monika felt guilty because of her German origin.
Especially because her father actively participated in and worked for the fascist regime. She felt responsible for giving back to the world something beautiful, something revolutionary.