Friday, March 8, 2013

Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America's Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals


It’s rare that I read a book that utterly floors me with what it reveals, but Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals by Richard Rashke is one such book. I remember the furor that erupted around John Demjanjuk, a Ukranian immigrant living in Cleveland, when in 1986 he was deported to Israel and tried as an accessory to the murder of thousands of Jews, as he was believed to be “Ivan the Terrible,” a sadistic guard at the Treblinka concentration camp. Eventually acquitted and his U.S. citizenship restored, Demjanjuk was later deported to Germany in 2009 to stand trial again as an accessory to murder while serving as a guard at the Sobibor concentration camp; he died in 2012 while awaiting appeal.

While the bulk of Useful Enemies deals with Demjanjuk, what really disturbed me was the shameful fact that hundreds of Nazi war criminals were allowed into the U.S., many of whom were actively recruited by the government in its efforts against communism during the Cold War. Take for instance Nazi collaborator Viorel “Valerian” Trifa, whose rabble-rousing resulted in a three-day pogrom in Bucharest in which up to one thousand Jews were tortured and killed. After the war, he lied his way into the U.S. and in less than five years became a nationally recognized bishop in the Romanian Orthodox Church despite the fact that his past was known. Trifa even delivered the opening prayer of the 1955 session of the U.S. Senate! If your jaw just dropped when you read that, mine did too. When one recalls how unwilling the U.S. was to admit Jewish immigrants while Hitler was thumping his chest in Germany and threatening to rid all of Europe of its “Jewish Problem,” this postwar open-door policy with Nazis is downright disgusting. That these individuals seemed to be magically protected from deportation makes the matter even more deplorable, and even when diligent federal investigators such as Anthony DeVito caught wind of Nazis hiding in plain sight, they found their investigations thwarted at every turn by the very organizations they worked for. In fact, the only time the government seemed compelled to act was when it was publicly shamed into doing so, thanks in large part to the efforts of Brooklyn Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, whose determinedness in ensuring that Nazi war criminals residing in the U.S. were found and deported would eventually lead investigators to John Demjanjuk.

Useful Enemies is one heck of an eye-opener and should be required reading for everyone, especially those wishing to know more about this shameful chapter in American history. 

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