(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
United States lawmakers voted last week to close a loophole through which the US government doled out Social Security payments to suspected Nazi war criminals.
“For many years a loophole has allowed those who perpetrated horrific crimes against humanity to receive benefits paid by the United States government,” Rep. Samuel Johnson (R-Texas), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in an email.
“While the number of Nazi recipients of Social Security benefits may be few, allowing payments to continue is an inexcusable insult to those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.”
The “No Social Security for Nazis Act” passed the House of Representatives unanimously Tuesday, with a companion bill introduced to the Senate the following day.
Pending Senate confirmation, the legislation would nullify Social Security payments to “individuals who participated in Nazi persecution.”
The legislation was born out of an Associated Press investigation published on October 19 that found “dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals and SS guards collected millions of dollars in US Social Security benefits.”
The AP found that 38 suspected Nazis were allowed to keep their Social Security benefits after agreeing to voluntarily leave the US.
“The US pushed to get as many of these [people as possible] out of the country and one of the ways of doing so was to offer them the possibility of retaining Social Security privileges, if they would depart before a court ordered them deported, thereby hastening their departure and saving the US endless legal proceedings,” said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi-hunter with the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The bill was propelled by indignation from Jewish organizations in Washington and around the world.
“This was a crime in and of itself – that these people who were illegally here, who had carried out heinous crimes against humanity should get benefits at all from the US government,” said William Daroff, policy chief for the Jewish Federations of North America, which lobbied for the bill.
Following the publication of the AP report, the JFNA began to push for the legislation during “conversations with key congressional staff people,” Daroff said.
“There’s really been no opposition,” he said, adding that a “quiet time” in Washington allowed the bill to get to a vote at breakneck speed.
“The world must never forget the six million Jews and other innocents murdered in the Holocaust – and the quick passage of this bill proves we still remember,” Johnson said in the email.
The bill was roundly praised in Washington by lawmakers and Jewish groups.
“Today’s vote is certainly a case of better late than never,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman said.
Political satirist Stephen Colbert addressed the subject on his primetime television show.
“It’s inspiring to see both parties join hands to declare with one voice: ‘Nazis are bad,’” he said.Sam Sokol contributed to this report.