Journalist exposes ‘Nazis Next Door’ in postwar America

By Burton Boxerman, Special to the Jewish Light

Although many Jewish refugees of the Holocaust found it difficult to enter the United States after World War II, many Nazis had no difficulty leaving Germany for “safe havens” in South America, Canada and the Middle East. In addition, approximately 10,000 “ex-Nazis” arrived in America, many of them receiving help and protection from the FBI, the CIA and the military, which put them to work as spies, scientists and engineers.  

Until recently, most Americans were unaware that so many Nazis had settled in the United States.  However, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigative reporter Eric Lichtblau’s recent book, “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, 288 pages), shows that the United States built up a very close relationship between its government and Nazi war criminals during and after the Second World War.  

Through personal interviews and archival research, Lichtblau, who is assigned to the Times’ Washington bureau, concluded that the U.S. government expended great effort by employing these former Nazis, many of whom were involved in the death camps, to fight the Soviet Union during and after the Cold War.     

Because of his thorough research, Lichtblau discovered that beginning in the 1950s, CIA Director Allen Dulles arranged for the release of known Nazi researchers, such as noted scientist Werner Von Braun.  During the following decade, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover coldly admitted that his agents “were not going to waste their time attempting to track down alleged Nazis in America.”

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Things changed during the 1970s, however.  Lichtblau discovered that others also were trying to find out more about these Nazi citizens.  Because of the efforts of a few crusading journalists and immigration investigators, and the strong support of U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, D-New York, the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigation was created in 1979 for the sole purpose of pursuing elderly Nazis.  

Lichtblau discovered how the conservatives in the Reagan White House, led by Pat Buchanan, felt that the Office of Special Investigation had gone too far and was playing directly into the hands of the communists.  Buchanan insisted that the entire Nazi-hunting team should be abolished. He argued that the Justice Department had better things to do than “run down 70-year-old camp guards” or “wallow in the atrocities of a dead regime.”  

Despite the opposition of Buchanan and his ilk, the OSI was able to bring more than 100 successful denaturalization and deportation cases against immigrant Germans with Nazi ties. 

In fairness, the author devotes a good deal of attention to those who favored the admission of Nazis into our country. But he focuses much more on three individuals who played a leading role in bringing the reprehensible activities of federal agencies into the open: left-leaning journalist Chuck Allen, who had long verbally fought the Nazis during the 1960s; former INS investigator Tony DeVito; and former OSI Director Eli Rosenbaum, who helped make the case against some of the leading Nazis who had found what they thought was a safe haven in America.

Lichtblau’s book is rich in detail and helps us better understand postwar American history.  Moreover, it will mesmerize readers because of its interesting and fast-paced writing based on first-rate research.  

Forget “Most Wanted,” “48 Hours” and “Cold Case.”  Lichtblau’s nonfiction history reads like a suspense novel, with its often low-key heroes and unsavory villains.  This important story should hold the reader’s interest from the first page to its conclusion.