Nazis Were Given ‘Safe Haven’ in U.S., Report Says
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
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In 1980, prosecutors filed a motion that “misstated the facts” in asserting that checks of C.I.A. and F.B.I. records revealed no information on the Nazi past of Tscherim Soobzokov, a former Waffen SS soldier. In fact, the report said, the Justice Department “knew that Soobzokov had advised the C.I.A. of his SS connection after he arrived in the United States.”
C.H. Pete Copeland/Plain Dealer
(After the case was dismissed, radical Jewish groups urged violence against Mr. Soobzokov, and he was killed in 1985 by a bomb at his home in Paterson, N.J. )
via Associated Press
John Demjanjuk in 2006.
The secrecy surrounding the Justice Department’s handling of the report could pose a political dilemma for President Obama because of his pledge to run the most transparent administration in history. Mr. Obama chose the Justice Department to coordinate the opening of government records.
The Nazi-hunting report was the brainchild of Mark Richard, a senior Justice Department lawyer. In 1999, he persuaded Attorney General Janet Reno to begin a detailed look at what he saw as a critical piece of history, and he assigned a career prosecutor, Judith Feigin, to the job. After Mr. Richard edited the final version in 2006, he urged senior officials to make it public but was rebuffed, colleagues said.
When Mr. Richard became ill with cancer, he told a gathering of friends and family that the report’s publication was one of three things he hoped to see before he died, the colleagues said. He died in June 2009, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. spoke at his funeral.
“I spoke to him the week before he died, and he was still trying to get it released,” Ms. Feigin said. “It broke his heart.”
After Mr. Richard’s death, David Sobel, a Washington lawyer, and the National Security Archive sued for the report’s release under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Justice Department initially fought the lawsuit, but finally gave Mr. Sobel a partial copy — with more than 1,000 passages and references deleted based on exemptions for privacy and internal deliberations.
Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the department is committed to transparency, and that redactions are made by experienced lawyers.
The full report disclosed that the Justice Department found “a smoking gun” in 1997 establishing with “definitive proof” that Switzerland had bought gold from the Nazis that had been taken from Jewish victims of the Holocaust. But these references are deleted, as are disputes between the Justice and State Departments over Switzerland’s culpability in the months leading up to a major report on the issue.
Another section describes as “a hideous failure” a series of meetings in 2000 that United States officials held with Latvian officials to pressure them to pursue suspected Nazis. That passage is also deleted.
So too are references to macabre but little-known bits of history, including how a director of the O.S.I. kept a piece of scalp that was thought to belong to Dr. Mengele in his desk in hopes that it would help establish whether he was dead.
The chapter on Dr. Mengele, one of the most notorious Nazis to escape prosecution, details the O.S.I.’s elaborate efforts in the mid-1980s to determine whether he had fled to the United States and might still be alive.
It describes how investigators used letters and diaries apparently written by Dr. Mengele in the 1970s, along with German dental records and Munich phone books, to follow his trail.
After the development of DNA tests, the piece of scalp, which had been turned over by the Brazilian authorities, proved to be a critical piece of evidence in establishing that Dr. Mengele had fled to Brazil and had died there in about 1979 without ever entering the United States, the report said. The edited report deletes references to Dr. Mengele’s scalp on privacy grounds.
Even documents that have long been available to the public are omitted, including court decisions, Congressional testimony and front-page newspaper articles from the 1970s.
A chapter on the O.S.I.’s most publicized failure — the case against John Demjanjuk, a retired American autoworker who was mistakenly identified as Treblinka’s Ivan the Terrible — deletes dozens of details, including part of a 1993 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that raised ethics accusations against Justice Department officials.
That section also omits a passage disclosing that Latvian émigrés sympathetic to Mr. Demjanjuk secretly arranged for the O.S.I.’s trash to be delivered to them each day from 1985 to 1987. The émigrés rifled through the garbage to find classified documents that could help Mr. Demjanjuk, who is currently standing trial in Munich on separate war crimes charges.
Ms. Feigin said she was baffled by the Justice Department’s attempt to keep a central part of its history secret for so long. “It’s an amazing story,” she said, “that needs to be told.”
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