A report chronicling the history of the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting unit criticizes the government for knowingly allowing some Nazis to settle in the United States after World War II.
“America, which prided itself on being a safe haven for the persecuted, became in some small measure a safe haven for persecutors as well,” says the 600-page document.
The New York Times obtained a copy of the report, which the National Security Archive, a private group, posted on its website. Earlier, the Justice Department had declared dozens of pages from the document off-limits to the public after the archive sued to get it.
The long-secret report provided new details of many of the major cases handled by Justice’s Office of Special Investigations. The report reflects the ways in which American officials, who were assigned to recruit foreign scientists after World War II, circumvented President Harry S. Truman’s order that they not bring in Nazi Party members or people who had actively supported Nazi militarism.
Arthur Rudolph, one of hundreds of scientists brought to the United States after the war, told investigators in 1947 of attending a hanging during the war of inmates accused of sabotage at a plant near Nordhausen, Germany, where Rudolph was operations director. The plant he ran manufactured V-2 rockets using slave labor. U.S. immigration officials knew Rudolph had been a Nazi party member, but he was admitted to the U.S. anyway. Rudolph went on to become honored in the U.S. as the father of the Saturn V rocket, enabling the United States to make its first manned moon landing. Rudolph went to Germany in 1984 and forfeited his U.S. citizenship.
The report also details a discussion at the CIA over whether former Nazi party member Otto Von Bolschwing should acknowledge his Nazi past if confronted about it when applying for U.S. citizenship. Reversing earlier CIA advice, the agency concluded that Bolschwing should tell the truth. The agency hired Bolschwing during the Cold War for his contacts among ethnic Germans and Romanians. The Justice Department sought to deport Von Bolschwing when it found out about his past. Von Bolschwing, it turned out, had worked with Adolf Eichmann, helping devise programs in the 1930s to persecute and terrorize Germany’s Jews. Eichmann was one of the architects of the Holocaust.
“Some may view the government’s collaboration with persecutors as a Faustian bargain,” the report states. “Others will see it as a reasonable moral compromise borne of necessity.”
In court filings in the lawsuit brought by the National Security Archive, the Justice Department said that the report was never finalized, contains numerous factual errors and omissions and does not represent the official position of the Justice Department.
On Sunday, a Justice Department spokeswoman, Laura Sweeney, said: “The department is committed to transparency and providing information in accordance with relevant laws. Attorneys with expertise in the Freedom of Information Act make determinations about certain redactions based on privacy and other considerations under the law.”
According to portions of the report that were deleted by the Justice Department:
—The department established in 1997 that Switzerland had bought gold from the Nazis that had been taken from Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
—Meetings in 2000 in which U.S. officials pressured Latvian officials to pursue Nazis were “a hideous failure.”
—In hopes of establishing whether Dr. Joseph Mengele, known as the Angel of Death at Auschwitz, was dead, a director of the Office of Special Investigations kept in his desk a piece of scalp thought to belong to Mengele. OSI was the Justice Department entity created in 1979 to deport Nazis.
Also deleted was a portion of a 1993 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit that raised ethics accusations against Justice Department officials.