Why did at least 9 former Nazis die in the United States waiting to be deported?

In 1992, the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations learned that before moving to the United States, a potato chip vendor from Brooklyn had participated in the liquidation of Jewish ghettos in Poland, including those in Warsaw, Lublin, and Czestochowa. . And there was evidence that he helped other SS men execute 50 to 60 Jews in a ravine near Trawniki.

Jack Reimer was tried in 1998 and denatured, or stripped of his US citizenship, in 2002. An appeals court upheld the decision in 2004, and the following year the United States attempted to deport him. He agreed to leave for Germany, but died in August 2005 before that happened. At the time he was living in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and died surrounded by his family.

Sixteen years later, three New York House Democrats are asking the State Department to conduct a review of their records to find out why Reimer and eight other Nazi war criminals who were found living in the United States after the war they were prosecuted, convicted and ordered deported but then allowed to die “comfortably in the United States.”

“Some of these men were stationed in Nazi concentration camps,” they wrote. Others participated in the horrible liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto. The Department of Justice established beyond a reasonable doubt that each of them contributed to the atrocities of the Holocaust …

“We recognize that other countries may simply have been unwilling to take custody of these criminals after deportation from the United States, but we welcome a clear picture of diplomatic engagement around these cases that, however, did not managed to secure their deportation. It is important that the State Department provide the public with a full explanation of this profound injustice. “

The main entrance to the Vilnius Ghetto in Lithuania during WWII. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The letter, addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was signed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks. A spokesman for Nadler said the letter was prompted by a voter investigation.

All Nazi war criminals were prosecuted by the Office of Special Investigations, which was established in 1979 at the behest of then-Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, a Brooklyn Democrat. Holtzman told Jewish Week that he welcomed the new research.

“I would like to see if there are records on Nazi war criminals who have not been released,” he said. “The United States government has a long history of protecting war criminals. … These files should be made public, if they have not already done so, so that academics can find out what the United States did and did not do. “

When asked about other countries’ refusal to accept these war criminals, Holtzman said: “The real question is whether the United States government went to great lengths to get foreign governments to take them over. … Doing justice for Jews and others killed by the Nazis has not been a top priority. The problem has been publicized and known for a long time by those of us who have been fighting hard to bring them to justice. “

He cited the case of Karl Linnas, an Estonian who worked as a surveyor while quietly living in Greenlawn, Long Island, for more than 30 years. He came to the US in 1951 and became a naturalized citizen in 1959 by lying about his past (he claimed to be a person displaced by the war) and did not reveal that the Soviet Union had sentenced him to death in absentia for the Nazi war . crimes.

Linnas had been identified by witnesses as supervising the murder of 12,000 inmates, mostly Jewish women and children, in the Tartu concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Estonia, which was part of the Soviet Union. He was said to have personally ordered the guards to shoot the prisoners as they knelt by the edge of a ditch, causing them to fall directly into their graves. Holtzman said Linnas “personally murdered Jews in a ditch.”

After his arrest in the United States, a court stripped him of his citizenship in 1982 and ordered his deportation. Russia was willing to accept it, but the Reagan administration did not want to send it there, at a time when the USSR was seen as “the empire of evil.” The United States wanted to send him to Panama “where he could sit on a beach under a palm tree and enjoy life after murdering Jews,” Holtzman said.

“So whether it’s the first or second day of Passover, when they knew that all Jewish organizations were closed and there would be no one around to stop them, they planned to take him to Panama, Holtzman recalled.

But they forgot about me. I had gone to my office to pick up some papers when I received a call from Washington and they told me they were going to put Linnas on a plane to Panama. I had non-Jews working in my office and we called the Panamanian embassy … and got an appointment with the Panamanian ambassador to the United States. We flew into Washington at 2 p.m. and later learned that the United States government had decided not to. to carry [to Panama]. But this is what our government had been prepared to do, and we had foiled the Easter plan. “

In the end, Linnas was deported to Russia, but fell ill and died of heart failure at the age of 67 before he could face a firing squad.

In total, the OSI (which in 2011 merged with the new Human Rights Section and Special Prosecutor’s Office) succeeded in prosecuting 109 former Nazis living in the United States and extraditing, expelling or removing 69 of them (the rest died before they could be removed). The last case was that of Friedrich Karl Berger, 95, who had served as a guard at a concentration camp in Germany. He was deported to Germany in February.

Reimer’s case received a lot of publicity at the time of his arrest and trial; Columnist George Will opined that “the unspeakable was done for the insignificant, and speaks well of American justice that will not close the books on bestiality.”

Born in Ukraine, Reimer applied for an American visa in 1952 and became a naturalized citizen in 1959 by hiding the fact that he had been part of a feared SS unit made up of former Soviet prisoners of war. He was trained in a special camp in Trawniki, Poland, and was involved in the extermination of Jews throughout Poland.

Charges against Reimer were filed in 1992 and his citizenship case took six years to go to trial. Among the most damning evidence against him is a series of confessions he made in 1992 during five hours of interrogation by the OSI. In it, he acknowledged firing his rifle at a man from a group of Jewish civilians who had been gathered for execution in a mass grave near Trawniki in the winter of 1941-42.

“Are you done with him?” They Asked.

“I’m afraid so,” Reimer replied.

He later claimed that he had been forced to make such a statement and insisted that he had “fallen asleep” and was therefore not present when 50 to 60 Jews were executed in the Trawniki Ravine.

Reimer, who once owned a Wise potato chip franchise in Brooklyn, later worked for a Schrafft’s restaurant and later became its owner. He was tried in 1998 and denatured in 2002 by the Federal District Court of Manhattan. An appeals court upheld the decision in 2004, and the following year the United States tried to deport him.

In 2013, eight years after Reimer’s death in New Jersey, a Justice Department official recalled his case in a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“We will never know the names of those who were massacred by Reimer and his men, but we do know that they also did not live to see justice done,” said Eli Rosenbaum, director of Human Rights Enforcement Policy and Strategy for the Division of Human Rights. Penal. Rights and Special Procedures Section.

But Holtzman insisted that these Nazis who died here did not live their last days in peace.

“They had to attend court proceedings, the record of their wrongdoing is indelible and their family and neighbors will know it forever,” he said. “They had the mark of Cain and the sword of Damocles on their heads. And they never knew if these countries [that refused to accept them] you might change your mind. They were disgraced and ashamed. They did not rest easy because they never knew what could happen ”.


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