An excerpt from the book GENOCIDE - CRITICAL ISSUES OF THE HOLOCAUST Edited by Alex Grobman and Daniel Landes

Russell Books, 1983 Soft cover

From pages 389 - 393

World War II Nazis in the United States


     For millions of displaced persons (DPs) in Europe, the prison conditions of Nazi concentration camps were exchanged for the more benign but, nonetheless, still primitive and harsh surroundings of the displaced persons camps. The whole continent of Europe had many urgent problems. The ravages of war had left it desolate and barely able to house, feed, clothe, and provide sanitary services for its populations. Without outside help, economic and social services were at a standstill.
     In 1949-1950, the United States began relaxing its rigid immigration quotas to allow the victims of World War II to enter this country. By 1952, approximately 400,000 Europeans had entered America. But in the wake of the tidal wave of refugees seeking comfort and security, many former Nazis also were able to come to the United States, sometimes under the guise of anti-Soviet or anti-Communist refugees. Those who fought the United States now came to reap the benefits of its victory—and their defeat.
     The came because the United States either did not know or did not care who they were or what they did. This combination of ignorance and apathy planted and nurtured the seeds of the problem with Nazi war criminals residing in the United States. Today, hundreds of individuals are under investigation, suspected of concealing their Nazi past. In the confusion of postwar Europe, visas were granted to thousands. A thorough investigation was a rarity, even if the records had survived, or if the investigators knew what to look for. Many displaced persons—both Jews and non-Jews—had no papers and no way to verify their identities. A significant number came from villages where the town hall's records were lost under German occupation or Allied bombardments. Lack of records meant that many could assume new bogus identities. With these new unverifiable identities, Nazis sometimes applied for visas to enter the United States as victims of aggression—and such visas were granted.
     Many Nazis came to the United States in 1948 and 1949, claiming that they spent the war years in central eastern Europe in such nonmilitary and nonpolitical positions as foresters and dairymen. In 1950, the Displaced Persons Act was changed to specifically exclude Communists. However, in the course of amending the act, the language prohibiting the entrance of Nazis and Fascists into the United States was dropped, either accidentally or deliberately. Between 1950 and 1978 even an avowed Nazi (including, one must assume, Hitler if he were alive) could have legally entered the United States as an immigrant and become a citizen.
     In 1950, the Korean War started and anti-Communist hysteria was commonplace. Untied States intelligence agencies intensified existing programs to bring politically active, known anti-Communists into the country to gain firsthand knowledge of the conditions, terrain, and people living in the Soviet Bloc. Many of these politically active, known anti-Communists were actually Nazis, Nazi sympathizers, or Nazi collaborators. Even in some cases where security and background investigations were made, known Nazis were allowed to enter this country. The rationale was that these Nazis were anti-Communists or had useful scientific skills.
     As far back as 1944, the Joint Intelligence Activities Board began planning the "Paperclip Program," which admitted hundreds of Nazi scientists and administrators into the United States to assist American space and military development—especially rockets, missiles, jet engines, and airplanes. Nazis who had useful scientific skills were acceptable if they were deemed of use in fighting the Communists. The expediency of this shortsighted crusading logic was obvious to intelligent observers and critics at the time.
     The Communists retaliated by releasing politically embarrassing information showing the Nazi backgrounds of these new Americans. The United States, with justification, dismissed most of these charges as Communist propaganda designed to discredit those who had historically opposed the imposition of Communist domination on their homeland. No one, to this day, knows how many Nazis the Communists used (and may still be using) in their military research programs.
     Very few prosecutions of Nazi collaborators took place in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. These prosecutions were either of notorious Nazis, such as the Rumanian Nicolae Malaxa and the Croat Andrija Artukovic, or they were Jewish kapos, such as Jonas Lewy. For different reasons these failed.
     Nicolae Malaxa, for example, was a major industrialist in steel and heavy industry in prewar Rumania. Soon after the Nazi invasion, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering nationalized and took control of all means of Rumanian industrial production. Originally Malaxa lost all his holdings. In a short period, however, he resumed control under Nazi protection and produced machinery for the German occupiers. Malaxa was also a strong financial backer of the collaborationist and native Fascist Iron Guard and the government of General Ion Antonescu. When the war was over, Malaxa transferred millions of dollars into New York banks. Even after the Communists took control in Rumania, Malaxa continued to have enormous influence. He arrived in the United States as part of a trade delegation and defected. When his past activities were discovered, the United States government moved to deport him. Through complex and intricate political and legal maneuvers, he was able to stymie deportation until his death in 1963, at which time he was residing on Park Avenue in New York City.
     Andrija Artukovic, minister of the interior of Croatia, entered the United States under a false name in 1948. Since 1949, efforts have been under way to extradite him to Yugoslavia. On the narrow question of extradition, the case reached the United States Supreme Court. He was ordered deported to Yugoslavia in 1958 but that order has been judicially stayed. In 1959, the Justice Department tried to have Artukovic deported. The stay was lifted but he has appealed that order to the Circuit Court of Appeals. The court has not rendered a decision and as of the summer of 1982, Artukovic remains in the United States.
     Perhaps the most tragic prosecution during this embarrassing period was the one directed against Jonas Lewy. Lewy was a Polish Jew who served as a kapo in a Nazi concentration camp. He was identified after his arrival in the United States as an overzealous guard who enjoyed his work, maltreating and brutally beating Jewish prisoners. Although he was found guilty and ordered deported, the United States government stayed his deportation to Poland because of justifiable fears that the Polish government would persecute him.
     Yet, even these cases were isolated examples of unofficial attempts to remove the Nazis from the United States. For the most part, the American people and their government were not interested in pursuing these cases. The war was over and they had other priorities. The enormity of the Holocaust could not easily be dismissed. In May, 1960, Israel arrested Adolf Eichmann, the man responsible for implementing the Final Solution. He was tried in April-December, 1961. This nondescript Austrian SS officer personified Nazi evil. The Eichmann trial, which drew world attention, culminating in his execution in May, 1962, was high drama and led to renewed attention to Nazis hiding in our midst.
     In 1974, the dam broke. Elizabeth Holtzman, a young Jewish congressperson from Brooklyn, learned of the problem of Nazis in America. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee she asked the Justice Department for information and was disturbed by its half-hearted response. Ms. Holtzman learned that for twenty years there had been evasion and equivocation with respect to Nazis in the United States. A policy of silence and indifference to Nazis in America prevailed in the United States government. Bureaucratic inertia made this policy as effective as tacit protection of ex-Nazis. There were no centralized records, no coordinated investigations, and individual cases were accorded very low priorities. No agency had the authority, mandate, or legal responsibility to investigate or arrest Nazi war criminals. Each branch of government had its own priorities—and none was interested in Nazis.
     In 1977, the Justice Department responded favorably to Representative Holtzman's demands. For the first time since the Nuernberg prosecutions a single, centralized unit was created in the Justice Department with the mandate to investigate and prosecute individuals accused of concealing their Nazi past in order to obtain a visa allowing them to enter the United States. The investigative unit was first a part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and was later incorporated into the Criminal Division of the Justice Department.
     Since its inception, the unit (now called the Office of Special Investigations) has conducted research into hundreds of cases and has litigated all of the more than twenty cases brought against alleged Nazis. People such as Bishop Valeirian Trifa, the student leader of the Rumanian Iron Guard, Treblinka guard Feodor Fedorenko, and others have now been brought to justice. But justice in the American system is frustratingly slow due to constitutional safeguards. Despite their heinous deeds, these men and women are not, nor can they be, accused of violating any section of the United States criminal code, since their crimes are not covered by American law. Moreover, the United States has not been a signatory or ratifier of any treaty on the subject of genocide since 1945, and only under political pressure have prosecutions against Nazi criminals living in the United States begun. These Nazis can only be prosecuted for lying on their immigration forms about their Nazi pasts; as understood in the doctrine of defective immigration, their entry into the United States is invalidated by such substantial untruths as membership in a Fascist party or the holding of a criminal record. Their only punishment is denaturalization for citizens and deportation for aliens. Sometimes, as in the Ryan Case, in which Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan, a former guard at Maidanek concentration camp, was extradited from the United States, prosecution subsequently has taken place in West Germany. However, it is not known if the United States would deport to such countries as Poland and Soviet Bloc nations, where the political climate is undesirable but where Nazi war criminals are prosecuted. Despite the relative leniency of the American punishments, the effort is still to be supported for its educational value.
     Today, efforts to find and prosecute Nazi war criminals continue. Officially, the governments of Israel, the United States, and West Germany cooperate and share information. There is limited cooperation between those governments and some Communist countries, such as the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic, Yugoslavia, and Poland. Other Western countries, such as Canada and France, are now also beginning to examine their own Nazi immigrant problem.

     For Further Reading

     Blum, Howard. Wanted!: The Search for Nazis in America. New York: Quadrangle Books, 1977.

     Borkin, Joseph. The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben. New York: The Free Press, 1978.

     Dinnerstein, Leonard. America and the Survivors of the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Klarsfeld, Beate. Wherever They May Be! New York: Vanguard Press, 1975.

     Knoll, Erwin, and McFadden, Judith Nies, eds. War Crimes and the American Conscience. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970.

     Knoop, Hans. The Menten Affair. New York: Macmillan Co., 1978.

     Loftus, John. The Belarus Secret. Edited by Nathan Miller. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982.

     Lyttle, Richard B. Nazi Hunting.* New York: Franklin Watts, 1982.

     Rückerl, Adalbert. The Investigation of Nazi Crimes, 1945-1978: A Documentation. Heidelberg: C.F. Müller, 1979.

     Wiesenthal, Simon. The Murderers Among Us: The Wiesenthal Memoirs. Edited by Joseph Wechsberg. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.

     *For children.