April 5, 2019
Attorney Joel Greenberg discussed some of the notable prosecutions of Nazi war criminals that have occurred in the United States at the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department dinner at the Mark on April 4.
Greenberg, who prosecuted Nazis during his tenure at the Office of Special Investigations, told the audience after the war had ended, around 10,000 Nazis came to the United States posing as refugees; the Nazis that entered mostly lived “quiet” lives, with Holocaust survivors every and now then recognizing a Nazi.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the United States government realized that there were thousands of Nazi war criminals in the country.
“The issue for the United States in the late ‘70s is what are we going to do with these Nazis since they didn’t commit a crime on U.S. soil,” Greenberg said, pointing out that the Nazis would have to be extradited to Europe.
To address this, then-Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.) passed legislation in 1978 that became known as the Holtzman Amendment and established the OSI in the Department of Justice to hunt the Nazis. The law also stated that it was a crime for an immigrant to have “ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the [Nazi] persecution of any person because of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion.”
One of the Nazis that OSI hunted down was Feodor Fedorenko, who was a guard at the Treblinka death camp. Fedorenko’s legal defense was “I never harmed any prisoners” and “I was drafted” to serve in Treblinka, Greenberg said.
“We could only bring the case on the status that he was a concentration camp guard,” Greenberg said, pointing out that OSI didn’t have any “direct evidence that he committed any brutality.”
In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of OSI in Fedorenko v. United States by a margin of 7-2; the court argued that based on the text of the Holtzman Amendment, “the mere fact that you assisted in other people based on their national origin… was enough,” according to Greenberg.
Fedorenko later argued in front of immigration judge that if he were sent back to his home country, the Soviet Union, he would stand on trial for his life. The immigration judge ruled that he should be extradited to the Soviet Union, where Fedorenko was executed in 1987.
“I believe they made the right decision,” Greenberg said.
The second OSI case that Greenberg discussed was the case of Arthur Rudolph, who was the director of the Nazi camp that developed the V-2 rocket during World War II, Greenberg said. Rudolph was also the developer of the United States Saturn-5 rocket that went to the men in 1969. Rudolph “argued that he should stay in the United States because “the CIA recruited me” and he “helped defend this country and put a man on the moon.”
“The case became a huge issue,” Greenberg said. “The CIA did not want the case did go to public.”
Rudolph was allowed to go back to Germany in 1984, where he lived until his death in 1996 off a pension from NASA and Social Security payments.
The final case Greenberg discussed was of John Demjanjuk, who was identified by a dozen Holocaust survivors as “Ivan the Terrible,” the “horrible, sadistic person” who ran Treblinka’s gas chambers, Greenberg said. Ivan the Terrible was known to “sever the ears of children before they went to the chamber, would rape women before they went to the chamber,” according to Greenberg.
“Just a horrible, horrible person,” Greenberg said.
Demjanjuk’s defense was that he was “a refugee on the run,” but his story was “not believable” because, according to Greenberg, OSI had an identity card proving that Demjanjuk was a Nazi guard in Treblinka. Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel in 1986, making him “the second [Nazi] to stand trial in Israel, the first being [Adolf] Eichmann,” Greenberg said. However, Demjanjuk was acquitted by the Israeli Supreme Court when evidence emerged that he might not have been Ivan the Terrible. Demjanjuk was sent back to Cleveland in 1988, where he had lived prior to be extradited to Israel, but he was eventually deported to Germany in 2009.
“Germany would put you on trial even if there wasn’t specific evidence you hurt someone” at a Nazi death camp, Greenberg said.
Demjanjuk was found guilty by a German court in 2011 for being a guard at Nazi death camps; Demjanjuk died of a heart attack a year later while on appeal.
“[It was a] great example of justice delayed being justice denied,” Greenberg said.
He added that OSI does still exist and there are still some Nazi cases that they’re working on.
“To me it’s very important because it shows that if you participate as a perpetrator in the crimes against humanity… you should not be able to sleep easily given the number of people that died in the Shoah,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg concluded his speech by stating that the “new form of anti-Semitism is that as long as you have Israel in your criticism… you can say all kinds of outrageous things,” specifically pointing to Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) recent remarks. He condemned Congress for not adequately denouncing Omar.
“We all have to stand against that,” Greenberg said.
Additionally, StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothsten, COO Jerry Rothstein and President Esther Renzer recognized honoree and board member Marty Jannol at the event for his longtime pro bono work at SWU since the organization was founded in 2001. SWU Saidoff Legal Department Director Yael Lerman and assistant director Jonathan Bell also introduced the 2018-19 JD Fellowship class, a program that teaches law school students how to fight for Israel with the law.
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