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Why did the U.S. government hire over 1,000 former Nazis after World War II?


Simply chilling.

Image source: Getty Images

A new book details a staggering fact: in the decades following the end of World War II, the U.S. government hired over 1,000 Nazis as assets to be used against the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

Perhaps more shocking, some of these individuals -- who were guilty of horrendous war crimes -- lived comfortably among Americans for decades. When the backgrounds of certain Nazi assets later emerged in related investigations, U.S. intelligence agencies in certain instances allegedly sought to cover them up.

In Eric Lichtbau's "The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler's Men," the author documents the substantial efforts originally employed by the F.B.I. under J. Edgar Hoover and the C.I.A. under Allen Dulles, based on thousands of declassified documents and additional newly disclosed evidence heretofore not compiled and synthesized into one volume.

Adolf Hitler and his chief of police Heinrich Himmler inspecting the SS Guard.(Getty Images) Adolf Hitler and his chief of police Heinrich Himmler inspecting the SS Guard.(Getty Images)

Writing in the New York Times in an article adapted from the book, Lichtbau states:

At the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, law enforcement and intelligence leaders like J. Edgar Hoover at the F.B.I. and Allen Dulles at the C.I.A. aggressively recruited onetime Nazis of all ranks as secret, anti-Soviet "assets," declassified records show. They believed the ex-Nazis' intelligence value against the Russians outweighed what one official called "moral lapses" in their service to the Third Reich.

[sharequote align="center"]"They believed the ex-Nazis' intelligence value..outweighed what one official called 'moral lapses'"[/sharequote]

...Evidence of the government's links to Nazi spies began emerging publicly in the 1970s. But thousands of records from declassified files, Freedom of Information Act requests and other sources, together with interviews with scores of current and former government officials, show that the government's recruitment of Nazis ran far deeper than previously known and that officials sought to conceal those ties for at least a half-century after the war.

While it may not come as a shock that the U.S. would try to "turn" former enemies who themselves had fought the Soviets, perhaps most terrifying is the fact that many of the assets employed by the U.S. intelligence apparatus had been senior Nazi members who not only lived among Americans but were protected by them for decades.

[instory-book ISBN="9780547669199"]

In the article, Lichtbau notes that the U.S. employed for example an SS Officer named Otto von Bolschwing, a mentor and key aide to Adolf Eichmann, first hiring him to spy in Europe and then providing von Bolschwing and his family residence in New York City beginning in 1954. When Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina in 1960 by Israeli agents, the CIA worked to conceal von Bolschwing's ties to Eichmann, protecting him from prosecution. Lichtbau writes:

Agency officials were worried...that Mr. von Bolschwing might be named as Eichmann's "collaborator and fellow conspirator and that the resulting publicity may prove embarrassing to the U.S." a C.I.A. official wrote.

In another example, Lichtbau details the story of Aleksandras Lileikis, a man the machine-gun massacres of 60,000 Jews in Lithuania. He worked "under the control of the Gestapo during the war," his C.I.A. file noted, and "was possibly connected with the shooting of Jews in Vilna."

Lileikis was hired to spy for the CIA in East Germany in 1952, and ultimately immigrated to America in 1956, where he would live "quietly for nearly 40 years until prosecutors discovered his Nazi past and prepared to seek his deportation in 1994."

But the agency allegedly sought to cover Lileikis' crimes up. Lichtbau writes:

When C.I.A. officials learned of the plans, a lawyer there called Eli Rosenbaum at the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting unit and told him "you can’t file this case," Mr. Rosenbaum said in an interview. The agency did not want to risk divulging classified records about its ex-spy, he said.

Mr. Rosenbaum said he and the C.I.A. reached an understanding: If the agency was forced to turn over objectionable records, prosecutors would drop the case first. (That did not happen, and Mr. Lileikis was ultimately deported.)

The C.I.A. also hid what it knew of Mr. Lileikis’s past from lawmakers.

In a classified memo to the House Intelligence Committee in 1995, the agency acknowledged using him as a spy but made no mention of the records linking him to mass murders. "There is no evidence," the C.I.A. wrote, "that this Agency was aware of his wartime activities."

For their part, the C.I.A. refused to comment on Lichtbau's story generally.

What were some of the activities in which the Nazi intelligence assets were involved? Lichtbau tells us:

The Nazi spies performed a range of tasks for American agencies in the 1950s and 1960s, from the hazardous to the trivial, the documents show.

In Maryland, Army officials trained several Nazi officers in paramilitary warfare for a possible invasion of Russia. In Connecticut, the C.I.A. used an ex-Nazi guard to study Soviet-bloc postage stamps for hidden meanings.

In Virginia, a top adviser to Hitler gave classified briefings on Soviet affairs. And in Germany, SS officers infiltrated Russian-controlled zones, laying surveillance cables and monitoring trains.

But many Nazi spies proved inept or worse, declassified security reviews show. Some were deemed habitual liars, confidence men or embezzlers, and a few even turned out to be Soviet double agents, the records show.

Mr. Breitman said the morality of recruiting ex-Nazis was rarely considered. "This all stemmed from a kind of panic, a fear that the Communists were terribly powerful and we had so few assets," he said.

The ideology that pervaded U.S. intelligence from the top, leading to such a program, is at best highly troubling:

[sharequote align="center"]"Mr. Dulles believed "moderate" Nazis might "be useful" to America"[/sharequote]

Mr. Dulles believed "moderate" Nazis might "be useful" to America, records show. Mr. Hoover, for his part, personally approved some ex-Nazis as informants and dismissed accusations of their wartime atrocities as Soviet propaganda.

We do not yet know the full scope and scale of such operations, which some argue is substantially larger than 1,000 ex-Nazis, as elements of it still remain classified:

In all, the American military, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and other agencies used at least 1,000 ex-Nazis and collaborators as spies and informants after the war, according to Richard Breitman, a Holocaust scholar at American University who was on a government-appointed team that declassified war-crime records.

The full tally of Nazis-turned-spies is probably much higher, said Norman Goda, a University of Florida historian on the declassification team, but many records remain classified even today, making a complete count impossible.

But the sobering reality is clear:

"U.S. agencies directly or indirectly hired numerous ex-Nazi police officials and East European collaborators who were manifestly guilty of war crimes," he said. "Information was readily available that these were compromised men."

(H/T: Tablet)


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