In the early ’70s, New York Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman received a confidential tip that American immigration authorities knew of dozens of former Nazis — some implicated in serious war crimes — who were living in the U.S.
Holtzman looked into it and discovered that it was true, and that the formerly named Immigration and Naturalization Service wasn’t doing much about it.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg, according to investigative reporter Eric Lichtblau.
In his new book, The Nazis Next Door, Lichtblau reports that thousands of Nazis managed to settle in the United States after World War II, often with the direct assistance of American intelligence officials who saw them as potential spies and informants in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
“They sort of had put in their service,” Lichtblau tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies. “This was their ‘reward’ … for their spy service … coming to the United States and being able to live out their lives basically with anonymity and no scrutiny.”
Most Americans knew little about the Nazis among them. And then in 1979, media reports and congressional interest finally spurred the creation of a Nazi-hunting unit with the Justice Department.
That prompted the first wave of Nazi-hunting, Lichtblau says.
“You had teams of lawyers and investigators and historians at the Justice Department who began … looking at hundreds and hundreds of names of suspected Nazis and Nazi collaborators who were living all around the country, in Queens, in Baltimore, in Florida and Chicago,” he says.
And, in some cases, the CIA had scrubbed the Nazis’ files, Lichtblau says.
“They actively cleansed their records,” Lichtblau says. “They realized that guys who had been involved at senior levels of Nazi atrocities would not pass through immigration at the INS — and they basically removed a lot of the Nazi material from their files.”
On the treatment of the Jews after liberation
Even after the liberation of the camps, they were still prisoners. They were kept under armed guard; they were kept behind barbed wire; they were bunked with Nazi POWs.
And in some cases, believe it or not, the Nazis still lorded over them while the Allies ruled the camp.
When I started researching the book, this was a book about the Nazis who fled to America. I really had no intention of looking at the survivors — it seemed sort of irrelevant to what I was doing.
And then the more I got into it, and the more horrified I was by the conditions that the survivors lived in — where you had thousands and thousands of people dying even after the liberation, of disease, of malnutrition.
I realized it was relevant to the story because as easy as it was for the Nazis to get into America, it was just as horribly difficult for the Jews and the other survivors to get out of the camps.
It took them months, and in some cases a couple of years, to get out of these displaced-person camps. It made me realize that the liberation that I had learned about years ago was in some sense sort of a mockery.
On Nazis running the camps even after the liberation
[U.S. Army] Gen. [George] Patton believed that the Nazis were best suited to run these camps. In fact, he openly defied orders from then Gen. [Dwight] Eisenhower, who was in charge of the European forces after the war.
Patton was in charge of the displaced persons camps. Patton had sort of an odd fondness almost for the Nazi prisoners, believe it or not.
He believed that they [were] the ones in the best position to efficiently run the camps — and he gave them supervisory approval to basically lord over the Jews and the other survivors.
On Nazis and Nazi collaborators getting visas to the United States
In the early months, and first few years after the war, beginning in mid-1945, [there were] only a very limited number of immigration visas to get into the United States.
Of all the [Holocaust] survivors in the camps, only a few thousand came in in [the] first year or so.
To get a visa was a precious commodity, and there were immigration policymakers in Washington who were on record saying that they didn’t think the Jews should be let in because they were “lazy people” or “entitled people” and they didn’t want them in.
But there were many, many thousands of Nazi collaborators who got visas to the United States while the survivors did not — even though they had been, for instance, the head of a Nazi concentration camp, the warden at a camp, or the secret police chief in Lithuania who signed the death warrants for people.
The bulk of the people who got into the United States — some were from Germany itself, some in fact were senior officers in the Nazi party under Hitler — but more were the Nazi collaborators.
On U.S. intelligence using Nazis as spies
There were upwards of a thousand Nazis who were used by U.S. intelligence after the war by the CIA, the FBI, the military and other U.S. intelligence agencies — both in Europe as well as inside the United States, in Latin America, in the Middle East, even a few in Australia.
And these were seen as basically cold warriors who served as spies, informants and in other intelligence roles.
On whether it was an official policy to bring in Nazis as spies
I think it was ad hoc. It was not a formal policy approved by the White House or even [Director Allen] Dulles at the CIA to say:
“We are going to actively recruit Nazis, their pasts be damned.”
There’s no document that I found which gives blanket authority for that. But it grew sort of organically because you had whole networks of Nazi spy groups in Europe … as well as the Middle East and Latin America, and often these guys made it into the United States sort of one by one.
There’s very little evidence that [the Nazis] had much to do with each other once they got to the United States.
On the remaining classified documents
There are still documents that remain classified today about the CIA’s relationship with Nazi figures in the ’40s and ’50s and into the ’60s. A lot of these documents have become declassified just in the last 10 or 15 years. (…)
There are documents that may open up whole new chapters that still remain classified that I’d love to see.
Information source: npr books
Excerpt: The Nazis Next Door
A Name from the Past
July 12, 1974
The old man sounded panicked. He was normally so cocksure and crafty, but now, as he related the strange events of the last few weeks, there was the squall of desperation in a voice left raspy by too many Marlboros.
He was in trouble, Tom Soobzokov was telling his long-ago friend John Grunz on the other end of the phone line.
Exactly why was still not clear; the words were tumbling out so furiously in Soobzokov’s thick Slavic accent that Grunz could scarcely follow his helter-skelter story.
Crazy refugees from the old country were out to destroy him, the old man was saying. There was something about libelous stories in the news-paper.
A hell-bent congresswoman was somehow involved, too. And did Grunz hear his old friend Tom right? Did he just say something about Nazi war crimes?
Slow down, slow down, Grunz urged. Whatever’s going on, he said, we can deal with it. The assurances did nothing to calm Soobzokov.
You don’t understand. My life is in danger.
Typical Soobzokov. He inevitably seemed to cloak himself in some bit of drama or other; there was always that element of intrigue.
He was, as his secret psychological workups had concluded years earlier, a bold and impassioned man, “a leader type who can get things done,” but volatile and scheming, too; “a skillful manipulator of people.”
His outsize, fill-up-the-room personality had defined him for as long as Grunz had known him. But had his old friend, still rambling on the phone about Nazis and government probes, now turned delusional, too?
The two men, their lives once so tightly intertwined, had lost touch in recent years. Then came the cryptic message that an intermediary had passed along to Grunz just a few days earlier: someone named Soobzokov was looking for him. He wanted him to call as soon as possible.
It sounded urgent.
Tom Soobzokov? Looking for him? It had been many years — fifteen, maybe twenty — since they had last spoken. What could he want after all this time?
Soobzokov, nothing if not resourceful, had gotten a friend in Congress to find Grunz’s unlisted line and get the message to him. That wasn’t as simple as it sounded, since Grunz had a way of making himself hard to find. He was, after all, a CIA spy.
Soobzokov knew a bit about spying, too. That was how he knew Grunz. Soobzokov had once been a spy himself for the CIA — not a particularly good one, but a spy nonetheless.
Grunz had been his handler in the Middle East two decades earlier as they chased intelligence on the Soviets in the crazy Cold War days of the 1950s.
Soobzokov’s main mission was to recruit Russian émigrés and fervent anti-Communists — people like him — who might be willing to spy on their former homeland for America. He was always on the verge of turning the next big Russian agent, or so he claimed.
It was in the Middle East that Soobzokov had picked up his CIA code name: Nostril, an unflattering allusion to his prominent hooked nose. If he minded the moniker, he never let on. He loved the cloak-and-dagger intrigue of the spy business.
He also liked to brandish his agency credentials to friends and acquaintances, with a reckless bravado — not a good quality in a spy. As his handler, Grunz was sometimes forced to clean up the mess left by Nostril’s indiscretions in far-flung places.
Now, so many years later, a frantic Soobzokov had put out word — through a congressman, no less — that he was looking for Grunz. No, don’t give him my phone number, Grunz told the congressman’s office. I’ll contact him.
Whatever was going on, Grunz figured it couldn’t be good.
He picked up the phone and dialed a 201 area code: northern New Jersey, where, if he recalled right, Soobzokov had settled when he emigrated from Europe after World War II among a mass of war-torn refugees.
Pleasantries were few, despite their long estrangement.
Soobzokov needed help, and he needed it now, he told Grunz. His life — the American life he had cultivated so assiduously for himself, his wife, and his five children in the hardscrabble town of Paterson, New Jersey — was collapsing around him.
Amid the flurry of wild-sounding events, Grunz was finally able to parse out enough of the details to fully appreciate his panic.
Maybe he wasn’t so delusional, after all. People really were after him.
It had started with the whispers. For years, a bunch of Soobzokov’s fellow immigrants who, like him, hailed from Russia’s rugged western borderland in the North Caucasus, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, had been spreading malicious talk about him, he said.
He practically spat the words. They were obviously jealous of him — jealous of the political connections he’d built among state Democrats; jealous of the plum county job he’d landed; jealous of the reputation he’d earned in the immigrant community as a leader and fixer, a man who could make problems go away.
When he walked into a room, people stood up out of respect. He was a man of stature, a man of influence, and his rivals in New Jersey obviously resented him for it.
Now their envy had turned truly vile. The outrageous things they were saying about him!
That back in the old country, he had become the Germans’ henchman in his village after Hitler’s 1942 invasion. That he had turned on his own people.
That he had worn the reviled Waffen SS uniform. That he had led roaming Third Reich “execution squads” that gunned down Jews and Communists.
That he was, in short, a Nazi.
Excerpted from The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men by Eric Lichtblau. Copyright 2014 by Eric Lichtblau. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.