by Eric Lichtblau
November 13, 2010
Dr. Josef Mengele in
Arthur Rudolph, center, in
1990, was a rocket scientist for Nazi Germany and NASA.
John Demjanjuk, right, in
A secret history of the United States
government’s Nazi-hunting operation concludes that American intelligence
officials created a “safe haven” in the United States for Nazis and their
collaborators after World War II, and it details decades of clashes, often
hidden, with other nations over war criminals here and abroad.
The 600-page report,
which the Justice Department has tried to keep secret for four years,
provides new evidence about more than two dozen of the most notorious Nazi
cases of the last three decades.
It describes the government’s posthumous pursuit of Dr. Josef Mengele,
the so-called Angel of Death at Auschwitz, part of whose scalp was
kept in a Justice Department official’s drawer; the vigilante killing of a
former Waffen SS soldier in New Jersey; and the government’s mistaken
identification of the Treblinka concentration camp guard known as Ivan the
The report catalogs both the successes and failures of the band of lawyers,
historians and investigators at the
Justice Department’s Office of Special
Investigations, which was created in 1979 to deport Nazis.
Perhaps the report’s most damning disclosures come in assessing the
Intelligence Agency’s involvement with
Scholars and previous government reports had
C.I.A.’s use of Nazis for postwar intelligence purposes.
But this report goes further in documenting the level of American complicity
and deception in such operations.
The Justice Department report, describing what it calls,
“the government’s collaboration with
persecutors,” says that O.S.I investigators learned that some of the
Nazis “were indeed knowingly granted entry” to the United States, even
though government officials were aware of their pasts.
“America, which prided itself on being a
safe haven for the persecuted, became - in some small measure - a safe
haven for persecutors as well,” it said.
The report also documents divisions within the
government over the effort and the legal pitfalls in relying on testimony
from Holocaust survivors that was decades old.
The report also concluded that the number of
Nazis who made it into the United States was almost certainly much smaller
than 10,000, the figure widely cited by government officials.
The Justice Department has resisted making the report public since 2006.
Under the threat of a lawsuit, it turned over a
heavily redacted version
last month to a private research group, the National Security Archive, but
even then many of the most legally and diplomatically sensitive portions
A complete version
was obtained by The New York Times.
The Justice Department said the report, the product of six years of work,
was never formally completed and did not represent its official findings. It
cited “numerous factual errors and omissions,” but declined to say what they
More than 300 Nazi persecutors have been deported, stripped of citizenship
or blocked from entering the United States since the creation of
merged with another unit this year.
In chronicling the cases of Nazis who were aided by American intelligence
officials, the report cites help that C.I.A. officials provided in 1954 to
Otto Von Bolschwing, an associate of Adolf Eichmann who had
helped develop the initial plans “to purge Germany of the Jews” and who
later worked for the C.I.A. in the United States.
In a chain of memos, C.I.A. officials debated
what to do if Von Bolschwing were confronted about his past - whether to
deny any Nazi affiliation or,
“explain it away on the basis of extenuating
circumstances,” the report said.
The Justice Department, after learning of Von
Bolschwing’s Nazi ties, sought to deport him in 1981. He died that year at
The report also examines the case of Arthur L. Rudolph, a Nazi
scientist who ran the Mittelwerk munitions factory. He was brought to the
United States in 1945 for his rocket-making expertise under
Operation Paperclip, an American program that recruited
scientists who had worked in Nazi Germany. (Rudolph has been honored by NASA
and is credited as the father of the Saturn V rocket.)
The report cites a 1949 memo from the Justice Department’s No. 2 official
urging immigration officers to let Rudolph back in the country after a stay
in Mexico, saying that a failure to do so “would be to the detriment of the
Justice Department investigators later found evidence that Rudolph was much
more actively involved in
exploiting slave laborers at Mittelwerk than he or
American intelligence officials had acknowledged, the report says.
Some intelligence officials objected when the Justice Department sought to
deport him in 1983, but the O.S.I. considered the deportation of someone of
Rudolph’s prominence as an affirmation of “the depth of the government’s
commitment to the Nazi prosecution program,” according to internal memos.
The Justice Department itself sometimes concealed what American officials
knew about Nazis in this country, the report found.
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
“knew that Soobzokov had advised the C.I.A.
of his SS connection after he arrived in the United States.”
(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.)
The secrecy surrounding the Justice Department’s handling of the report
could pose a political dilemma for President
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”