Book Review: When crime does pay

Eric Lichtblau elucidates how Nazis found refuge in the US – and the deals the country offered them to secure their departure.

Eric Lichtblau (photo credit: SONIA SUTER)
Eric Lichtblau
(photo credit: SONIA SUTER)
My first full-time job researching Nazi war crimes was with the Office of Special Investigations of the US Justice Department, the special agency established in 1979 to take legal action against World War II Axis perpetrators. This was in the wake of revelations that many of Hitler’s henchmen had been admitted to the US, and were alive and living tranquilly in America.
For six years, from fall 1980 until the end of August 1986, I was employed in Israel as a contract researcher to search for documents and witnesses for the investigations (and in several instances, ultimately successful prosecutions) against some of the Nazi war criminals mentioned in Eric Lichtblau’s latest book, The Nazis Next Door: How America Became A Safe Haven For Hitler’s Men.
Thus, I was very curious to see what issues and cases Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lichtblau would focus on, in dealing with a subject that has already been written about quite extensively.
To be honest, I was initially disappointed – because practically the entire first half of the book tells a story that is already well-known: How US intelligence agencies facilitated the entry to America, and granting of US citizenship and protection from prosecution, to known Nazi war criminals and scientists who committed terrible war crimes in the course of their service to the Third Reich. Lichtblau presents the case for American malfeasance very convincingly, but the subject has been previously dealt with by authors starting with Howard Blum almost four decades ago, and continuing with Rochelle Saidel, former OSI director Allan Ryan, and more recently Richard Breitman, Norman Goda, Timothy Naftali, Robert Wolfe and Richard Rashke.
So although Lichtblau conveys his justifiable sense of righteous indignation effectively and passionately, that alone does not, in my opinion, justify another book.
What does make this book worthwhile is its second half, which focuses on some of the most important cases handled by the OSI and presents very interesting insights regarding the myriad of extremely difficult and often incredibly frustrating challenges faced by the prosecutors, in their mission to try to maximize justice while still possible to do so. Of particular interest was the case of Nazi scientist Arthur Rudolph, who was operations chief at the V-2 rocket factory at the Dora concentration camp, where inmates were grossly mistreated and in some cases worked to death. He was one of approximately 1,600 Nazi scientists and doctors brought to the US in the framework of “Operation Paperclip,” which officially banned the entry of any “ardent” Nazis who participated in persecution – but in fact paved the way for the admission to the US and granting of American citizenship to some of the worst of Hitler’s henchmen.
To complicate matters in this case, Rudolph had played a leading role in the American Saturn V space program, which helped the US land a man on the moon, and had received the highest honors from NASA for his contribution. Lichtblau takes us step by step through this dramatic investigation, until it reaches its almost anti-climactic conclusion: When Rudolph offers OSI prosecutors a deal. He agreed to leave the US permanently, renounce his American citizenship and voluntarily return to Germany, but in return demanded that his departure not be publicized and that he be allowed to retain his US pension and benefits.
Somewhat reluctantly, OSI agreed, knowing this was probably the maximum that could be achieved in such a case – given the fact that Rudolph had been brought to the US by the American government and his professional contribution to the US space program.
This “compromise” was typical of other such “deals” which OSI made with some of the Nazi criminals, in order to ensure their permanent departure from the US, which was in many cases the maximum measure of justice achievable under those circumstances.
Lichtblau brings several of these cases to life, and based on interviews with past and present OSI directors Ryan, Neal Sher and Eli Rosenbaum, is able to follow the development of the case from the initial accusation or allegation through the various stages of investigation and the search for evidence, until its completion either in a courtroom or lawyer’s office, or with the death of the suspect – a frustrating but sometimes inevitable occupational hazard for the OSI attorneys.
Also of particular interest were the interviews Lichtblau conducted with several of the children of the Nazi war criminals living in America, including Rudolph’s daughter; the lawyer son of Eichmann aide Otto von Bolschwing; the son of Croatian Interior Minister Andrija Artukovic; and the son of Tscherim Soobzokov, who was murdered in 1985 after he escaped prosecution for concealing his collaboration with the Nazis on a technicality, since he had informed the American authorities of his service prior to his emigration to the US. All of them, with the exception of Gus von Bolschwing, were incapable of believing the sad truth about their parents’ complicity in Nazi crimes.
It is particularly ironic that this book was published around the same time that Associated Press reporters Dave Rising and Randy Herrschaft revealed that several Nazi war criminals and collaborators, who had been denaturalized by OSI and/ or deported from the US for concealing their wartime service with the Nazis or their allies, are still receiving Social Security payments. As a result of the AP investigation, legislation is already in the works to cancel such benefits – a good indication of the progress made in the US in reference to this issue.
Unfortunately, that was hardly the case during the immediate postwar era through the late ’70s, as clearly elucidated by Lichtblau. 
The writer is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel office. His most recent book is Operation Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice (Palgrave/ Macmillan), in which he relates some of his experiences working in Israel for the Office of Special Investigations of the US Justice Department.