Commentary Magazine


Nazi War Criminals

To the Editor:

I seem to have struck a raw nerve. In “Did the U.S. Recruit Nazi War Criminals?” [June], George Szamuely says that my book Blowback is a “paranoid fantasy, . . . a nasty, rambling hodgepodge” that is rife with “distortions, . . . character assassination, and slander of entire nations.” He claims that the thesis of my book is that any opposition to Soviet expansionism is “Nazi.”

Wrong. In fact, the thesis of Blowback is quite simple. During the cold war, the National Security Council and the CIA made a series of decisions to promote anti-Communist “Captive Nations” émigré organizations from the USSR and Eastern Europe regardless of whether a given group had actively supported Nazi Germany or had participated in the Holocaust. A related program recruited Nazi Germany’s covert-warfare and intelligence specialists. The government’s secret assistance is now known to have included money, publicity, falsified documentation, immigration assistance, and, in some cases, de facto protection from prosecution for crimes against humanity.

In addition to the obvious legal and moral questions raised by these programs, it is clear today that they achieved consistently counterproductive results. They set back efforts to build stable, independent, and democratic states in Eastern Europe. Further, they helped smooth the way for thousands of Nazi criminals to escape justice.

The book repeatedly makes an explicit distinction between the anti-Semitic cadre organizations that had been willing Nazi pawns during the war and the many Eastern European political groups that refused to participate in criminal activity. It presents new information concerning the USSR’s recruitment of Nazis, and explains how the Soviet NKVD’s own crimes against humanity appear to have played a substantial role in the USSR’s decision to refuse to cooperate with most Western war-crimes investigations.

Perhaps most relevant to the present discussion, the text also shows how mainstream groups in the U.S. have sometimes failed to come to grips with the problem of genuine extremists in the postwar immigration.

For example, the annual Captive Nations Day commemorations enjoy endorsements from the President of the U.S., the governor of New York, and from some of COMMENTARY’s most respected writers. Yet the fact is that prominent Captive Nations Committee leaders in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia have long been vocal anti-Semites who use these occasions to deliver “Jews-stabbed-us-in-the-back” speeches or to distribute brownshirt-style propaganda.

The chairman of the New England Captive Nations Committee, Jozef Mlot-Mroz, for example, publishes hate literature claiming that “Communism is Jewish,” while in New York, local officers Horst Uhlich, Nicholas Nazarenko, and Edward Rubel have used the annual parade down Fifth Avenue to promote their belief that the U.S. Justice Department is “distributing Communist party propaganda in the U.S.” when it brings Nazi criminals to trial. Nazarenko, New York’s longtime Captive Nations Day Parade chairman, has publicly stated that the Nazi concentration camps were a desirable security measure and that an international Jewish conspiracy is the guiding force behind the Communist parties in Eastern Europe. Philadelphia’s Captive Nations chairman for more than fifteen years until his death was Austin App, author of The Six Million Swindle and other basic works of the “Holocaust-never-happened” school of historical revisionism. Similar attitudes are a pervasive part of the Captive Nations movement throughout the U.S., and have been for many years.

Even so, these groups continue to enjoy favorable media coverage, endorsements from leading political figures, and a substantial role in right-wing political coalitions year after year. The reasons for this phenomena are complex, but they stem in large measure from these organizations’ ability to use militant anti-Communism as a “respectable” cover for hate politics.

Would Mr. Szamuely have us simply ignore this trend in the interests of his version of anti-Communist unity? Or is he perhaps less well-informed about the movement he leaps to defend than he would have us believe?

Christopher Simpson
Mt. Rainier, Maryland

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To the Editor:

George Szamuely makes a lame attempt to convince us that investigations of Nazi war criminals in the U.S. are part of a renewed “revisionist” interpretation of the origins of the cold war. . . . In the process, he promotes his own version of historical revisionism, first by doubting the evidence of active recruitment of Nazis by the United States in the aftermath of World War II, . . . then by minimizing that evidence by ascribing the employment of notorious Nazis to . . . “naiveté on the part of the officials involved.”. . .

Mr. Szamuely further muddles the issue by lumping together the Gestapo criminals used as spies by our Counter-intelligence Corps (CIC) in occupied Germany and Austria, the more than 1,000 Nazi scientists employed in the U.S. by the Pentagon, the Nazi experts on biological and chemical warfare brought here illegally to apply their knowledge gained through human experiments in the concentration camps, as well as Baltic and Ukrainian war criminals who immigrated here under false pretenses via an Act of Congress granting them preferential treatment.

It is in connection with these East European Nazi collaborators that Mr. Szamuely makes some outrageous accusations against Elizabeth Holtzman, who was instrumental in creating the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) to ferret out Nazi criminals, and Allan A. Ryan, former director of that agency. Ryan estimates in his book, Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals in America, that about 10,000 Nazi war criminals came to the U.S., most of them Baits, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians. They were the executioners of the Jewish people, often outdoing the SS in their brutality. Toward the end of the war they fled to the West, ahead of the advancing Soviet army, along with their families and the gold and jewelry they had looted from their Jewish victims. They settled in Germany in comfort, and when the Allies occupied defeated Germany, these East Europeans refused to return to their homelands under Soviet rule. Their refusal of repatriation was based on fear of punishment by the Soviets for their collaboration with the Nazis, not on their alleged anti-Communism, as Mr. Szamuely tries to imply.

His claim that the OSI investigations have had “the unfortunate effect of persuading the American public that there was, and is, something disreputable in the longing of these nations to rid themselves of the Communism imposed on them from without,” is contrived and ludicrous. These criminals immigrated to the U.S. to escape justice and find a good life, not because of any idealistic longing to liberate their countries from Moscow rule. . . .

The Holtzman bill provided for the deportation of those who had lied about their Nazi past in their immigration papers, not of those who longed for freedom in their homelands. To imply some sinister motivation on the part of Holtzman and Ryan is reprehensible innuendo. . . . Mr. Szamuely is not impressed by the figure of 19 people deported under the Holtzman bill (“Not exactly a figure to inspire alarm,” he writes), but he does voice alarm over the effects of “lurid imagery” and “loose language” employed by Holtzman and Ryan on the reputation of the Baltic countries.

Mr. Szamuely flatly states that “no war criminals were recruited.” According to him, the employment of Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo chief and “Butcher of Lyon,” by the CIC for more than four years was an isolated case, a result of the CIC’s “naiveté.” He fails to mention that Barbie had managed a network of spies for the Americans, consisting of about 50 SS officers, that the “naive” CIC had kept this association secret from the higher army echelon, that the French government had made numerous requests for Barbie’s extradition based on his criminal record. . . .

Equally disturbing is Mr. Szamuely’s attitude toward the case of the roughly 1,000 German scientists, including the celebrated team of rocket experts headed by Wernher von Braun. Most of the scientists had been classified by U.S. interrogators in Germany as potential security threats, yet they were employed in the U.S. on highly secret defense projects. In his cavalier treatment of the subject, Mr. Szamuely seems to accept the scientists’ own assurances of their innocence in the death of 20,000 slave laborers of the Dora/Nordhausen camps employed in the rocket factory headed by von Braun and his colleagues. “They [the scientists] knew conditions were terrible,” he writes, “but what could they do?”

Von Braun was a major in SS uniform, as were the other experts and managers. They wielded considerable power and could easily have influenced the behavior of the SS guards toward the 60,000 prisoners working on their project. I know, for I worked as a slave laborer on one of these subterranean “secret weapon” programs. The disciplined SS guards would not disobey orders from their superior officers.

The truth is that the scientists and experts, in their race to produce miracle weapons for Hitler, enthusiastically accepted concentration-camp prisoners to work them to death. They collaborated in their brutal treatment to speed up tunnel construction. Surviving witnesses tell of frequent hangings and torture in the factory, attended by the scientists. Arthur Rudolph, Georg Rickhey, and other members of the rocket team were war criminals wanted by the Nuremberg Tribunal. Yet the Pentagon falsified their criminal records to bypass our laws against admitting top Nazis. . . .

Aside from the rocket and space experts, dozens of Nazi doctors and pseudo-scientists were brought to the U.S. to work on chemical and biological warfare research for our military. Many of them had committed the most barbaric crimes—experimenting on hundreds of human guinea pigs in the Dachau concentration camp. The victims had been tortured to death in low-pressure chambers and by exposure to extreme cold in aviation research of a dubious value. Mr. Szamuely, while referring to only three of these scientists illegally brought to the U.S. (Hubertus Strughold, Kurt Blome, and Walter Schreiber) says that they “had known about” or were “alleged to have witnessed human experiments,” when in fact it has been established that they initiated and conducted the experiments in Dachau.

The saddest part of the entire issue is that while the U.S. government was coddling Nazi war criminals and bringing them to the United States where they and their families were given substantial privileges, their victims vegetated in DP camps, unwanted and without hope. I was one of the surviving victims of Dachau whom at least one of our “liberators,” General George S. Patton, Jr., considered “less than human.”. . .

Mr. Szamuely fails to mention that while freely admitting pogromists, hangmen, and Nazi criminals, the U.S. government denied immigration to Jews. And when Congress finally enacted the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, it favored Baits, Ukrainians, and Volksdeutsche, but discriminated against Jewish Holocaust survivors.

Alfred Lipson
Bayside, New York

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To the Editor:

. . . I am not persuaded by George Szamuely’s attempts to portray members of the Nazi SS as scientists, and Nazi collaborators from the Baltic states and Eastern Europe as victims of the Soviets, while making the Soviets villains. . . .

SS Major Wernher von Braun and company did not earn their rank by taking civil-service examinations. They were first Nazis, then Germans, and then scientists. A secret that was revealed only recently has been known to survivors since 1945: the SS major and his Nazi friends had personal knowledge of the horrors taking place in the tunnels and in the death camps of Nordhausen and Dora. As a high-ranking SS officer, von Braun had life-and-death power over the victims and, in addition to rocketry, he had to plan ahead to keep up with the rapid personnel turnover. As one who worked in the tunnels of Gusen II, I can assure you that the life expectancy of a worker under those conditions was about two weeks. . . .

The Nazis, . . . despite their brilliant scientists, lost the war. After the war ended, the guilty Nazi scientists expected a Russian firing squad; therefore, and for no other reason, they surrendered to the American side.

In 1945 these “scientists” became our trusted friends. We placed our space program in their hands. . . . Unlike the Soviets, however, we allowed these Nazis to influence our costly space goals . . . [and] our space program fell behind that of the Soviets. . . .

As for Mr. Szamuely’s claim that Slavic and Baltic “nationalists” did not collaborate with the Nazis . . . , throughout Eastern Europe “volunteers” participated in the murder of civilians and POW’s at a ratio of one German to ten or more natives. When the Soviets drew near, most escaped to the West, were given false identities, and became known as anti-Communists. . . .

When the war with the Soviets began, the Nazis had no need to force Eastern Europeans and others to join their death squads. Many did the job on their own before the Germans entered and after the Soviets had left. The Nazis had to put a stop to this wild saturnalia and create “order” out of the chaos which was interfering with the conduct of the war. Thereafter, the Nazis tapped the enthusiastic support of the native population . . . to implement their “Final Solution.” They also built most of their death camps in Eastern Europe with the support of the collaborators. And these were the people we sheltered all these years as citizens of the U.S. . . .

Jan Reynolds
Riverdale, New York

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George Szamuely writes:

Christopher Simpson proudly claims to have “struck a raw nerve,” and he is certainly right about that. But he really ought to restrain his habit of projecting his own obsessiveness onto others. By what convoluted reasoning does he arrive at the conclusion that I was leaping “to defend” the Assembly of Captive European Nations—an organization I mentioned only in passing in my essay? Let me relieve him of his suspicions that my objections to his book had something to do with my own or, for that matter, anyone else’s version of “anti-Communist unity” (whatever that might mean). Blowback is a bad book. It is poorly reasoned, unfair, and intellectually dishonest. Unlike, say, the work of Tom Bower and Allan A. Ryan, Mr. Simpson’s enterprise adds little to our understanding of the origins and complex nature of the utilization of former Nazis and Nazi collaborators by agencies of the U.S. government after the war. This is not surprising, since Mr. Simpson is obviously only really interested in his own political agenda: namely, to discredit anti-Communism.

Mr. Simpson’s bizarre syllogism in his book seems to run like this: Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. For a very short time, the Nazis, for expedient reasons of their own, pretended that their only goal was to liberate the peoples of the Soviet Union from Communist tyranny. Therefore, anyone who now advocates the liberation of anyone anywhere in the world from Communist tyranny, is in effect carrying out a Nazi program.

Just a few sentences selected at random from Mr. Simpson’s book will illustrate the tendentiousness of his connections. Over and over again he makes it appear as if the American public was being swayed from a benevolent disposition toward the Soviet Union by pro-Nazi propagandists:

The genesis of the liberation [of Eastern Europe] philosophy can be clearly traced to émigré propagandists who had worked for the Nazis.

Their adoption of lip-service to democracy began to provide former fascists with a platform to promote their agenda to millions of Americans.

The role of former Nazi collaborators and U.S. intelligence agencies in promoting the penetration of liberationist political thinking into the American body politic may be traced through several clear steps.

And the perfidy continues unto the present day:

Today the Reagan administration has updated liberationism to apply to 1980′s crisis points like Angola and Nicaragua.

The CIA’s present techniques for virtually every type of covert operation . . . were first formulated during the Agency’s work with Eastern European collaborationist troops it inherited from the Nazis.

Mr. Simpson is seriously deluded if he really believes that but for the activities of émigré groups abroad, the Soviets would have relinquished their control over Eastern Europe and the Communists would have felt themselves under no compulsion to seize power. The truth is that no matter how many Nazi collaborators may at one time or other have offered their services to U.S. intelligence agencies, events in Eastern Europe moved along with their own inexorable Stalinist logic. Much the same could be said of the supposed influence émigré groups may have had on U.S. attitudes and policy toward the Soviet Union. At no time—not during the Berlin Blockade, or the Korean war, or the “loss” of China—did U.S. policy-makers ever depart from the defensive premises of the policy of containment, whatever occasional verbal swagger of “liberation” and “rollback” some politicians were given to. And after Stalin’s death, when the new Soviet leadership indicated a desire to improve relations with the West, even much of this rhetoric was dropped. Consequently, there does seem to be something bizarre about Mr. Simpson’s fretting now over the Assembly of Captive European Nations, to the extent of giving over half his letter to the subject.

Alfred Lipson claims I made “outrageous accusations” and employed “reprehensible innuendo” in my criticism of Allan A. Ryan and Elizabeth Holtzman. The truth is that though I admire Ryan’s passion for justice and applaud the diligence with which the OSI has tracked down suspected Nazi war criminals, it is important not merely to be on the right side but also to do the right thing. For instance, when Ryan proclaims that 10,000 Nazi war criminals found their way to the United States, it would be reassuring if the source of this estimate were a bit firmer than his guess that the figure must have been 2½ percent of the 400,000 immigrants who entered the country under the Displaced Persons Act.

There are also a number of troubling aspects to the close liaison between the OSI and Soviet judicial authorities, which have been detailed elsewhere, particularly in the Los Angeles Times, in two long articles by its staff writer, Robert Gillette (April 27-28, 1986). Apart from the relative inaccessibility of Soviet archives and witnesses to U.S. investigators, there is also the refusal on the part of the OSI to countenance any suspicions of the Russians’ motives in coming up with evidence against a particular individual at a time of their own choosing. In the end, though, as I mentioned in my article, only 19 people have been deported or pressured into leaving (incidentally, not for having committed war crimes, but for having lied to the immigration authorities when they entered the country). As a result of a lot of what is indeed very “lurid imagery, loose language, and guilt-by-association reasoning” a cloud of undeserved suspicion does in fact hang over a number of émigré communities.

Unfortunately, neither Mr. Lip-son nor Jan Reynolds wants to get beyond a straightforward tussle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. According to Mr. Lipson, the U.S. government was “coddling Nazi war criminals and bringing them to the United States”; according to Mr. Reynolds, the East Europeans were the real genocidalists, possibly worse than the Nazis, and it was these people we “sheltered all these years as citizens of the U.S.” Whatever reservations I may have about certain aspects of his work, I must quote Ryan at this point to bring a sense of reality to this discussion:

I gravely doubt that there was ever any organized or widespread conspiracy to bring Nazi war criminals to this country, for any purpose. Nazi criminals by definition were subject to trial and punishment by the Allies after the war and so they were in no position to bargain for generous rewards such as entry to the United States. . . . [T]he manifest improbability of the whole idea, combined with the utter lack of reputable evidence to date that any such plan ever actually existed, certainly puts the burden of proving its existence on those who would have us believe it. . . .

It is important to maintain distinctions. Some Nazis, Nazi collaborators, and even Nazi war criminals did find their way to these shores, but it came about through negligence rather than mendacity. Similarly, the evidence still seems to indicate that during the time Klaus Barbie was in the employ of the CIC he was not suspected of being a war criminal.

Finally, to the matter of Wernher von Braun. Although I do not particularly wish to defend him, I am a little surprised by Mr. Reynolds’s claim that von Braun and his colleagues were “first Nazis, then Germans, and then scientists.” I am even more astonished by his dismissal of von Braun’s contribution to the U.S. space program. But I do know that Mr. Reynolds is wrong in believing that the “Nazi scientists expected a Russian firing squad.” As I pointed out in my article, the Russians were eager to get their hands on any scientist, whether a civilian or a member of the military, in the hope of utilizing his talents. And Mr. Lipson is wrong when he says that Arthur Rudolph “and other members of the rocket team were war criminals wanted by the Nuremberg Tribunal.” In the Nordhausen/Dora trial of August 1947, along with the SS guards, only Georg Rickhey, director of production at Nordhausen, was a defendant. Neither Arthur Rudolph nor any of the other scientists was “wanted.” In other words, the question still remains, if they were not to be put on trial as war criminals, what was to be done with them? They could be allowed to go and work in the Soviet Union, or they could be allowed to return to Germany and help build up the scientific and industrial power of a vanquished enemy, or they could be put to use in the United States—as a legitimate instance of war reparations, one might say.

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