- Alleged Nazi Collaborators in the United States after World War II by Christoph Schiessl
In popular imagination many Holocaust perpetrators found a safe haven in South American countries like Argentina. While this is true, those were by no means the only sought-after destinations for Nazi fugitives. As Christoph Schiessl makes convincingly clear in Alleged Nazi Collaborators in the United States after World War II, an estimated 10,000 Nazi war criminals from Central and Eastern Europe also immigrated to this country. [End Page 416]
Schiessl’s book traces the stories of 150 suspected Holocaust perpetrators from their crimes in Central and Eastern Europe to their new lives in the United States. The book is clearly structured and well written. While Schiessl adds little new to the already well-researched big picture, he summarizes the existing literature well and provides additional information on lesser known cases. For many years the focus in the literature was on more prominent German and Austrian-born perpetrators. But in recent years researchers have begun to look more at collaborators and low rank-and-file perpetrators. Most of the Nazi collaborators in the U.S. belong to this latter category, especially Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, and ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe. The reasons for their service under the swastika were manifold, but ethnonationalism and anti-communism often played a role. Collaboration by locals in Nazi-occupied European countries is a highly sensitive topic to this day, as recent controversies in Poland illustrate.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, many Nazi collaborators were forcefully returned to the Soviet Union and other countries, while tens of thousands avoided “repatriation” by hiding among the masses of displaced persons stranded in Austria, Italy and Germany after the war. The screening of these refugees was initially quite effective, but the Cold War mindset increasingly undermined collaborators being singled out. If former Waffen-SS men and women from Eastern Europe stressed their anti-communism strongly enough, that often helped them to qualify for refugee status and immigration to the US. The change in political climate soon came with a change in laws. The Displaced Persons Acts of 1948 and 1950 and the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 made legal immigration of many former Waffen-SS members possible. Schiessl explains, “The violent background of some immigrants did not matter much as long as they appeared to be anti-communist and potentially could become loyal Americans. Few in the United States were aware that Nazi war criminals might enter the country, and fewer still were willing to speak up” (63). There was also little knowledge about the complex histories, languages and changing political borders in Central and Eastern Europe.
In the political climate of the 1950s, Nazi perpetrators had little to fear. There was only one successful deportation of a suspected war criminal in those years: in 1951 the Hungarian fascist Ferenc Vajta was deported to Bogota, Columbia, where Vatican officials arranged a teaching position at a Catholic university for him. But things changed in the 1960s and 1970s. The case against Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan proved a milestone in changing the attitude of many. The Austrian-born Braunsteiner was a camp guard in Ravensbrück and Majdanek, where she brutalized, tortured and murdered female prisoners and took part [End Page 417] in selections to gas chambers. After the war she was arrested in Austria and given a short prison sentence for her role in Ravensbrück. Later she married a U.S. citizen, moved to New York, and obtained U.S. citizenship in 1963. When her background in Majdanek was discovered, she lost her American citizenship and in 1973 was extradited to West Germany. A German court sentenced her to life in prison for the crimes she committed in Majdanek.
The Braunsteiner case made a wide audience aware of the presence in the U.S. of Nazi collaborators and fascists who were responsible for horrible crimes. In 1979 a new government agency was created with the exclusive purpose of finding, investigating, deporting or extraditing...