Use­ful Ene­mies: John Dem­jan­juk and Amer­i­ca’s Open-Door Pol­i­cy for Nazi War Criminals

Richard Rashke
  • Review
By – June 7, 2013
Rashke, the author of The Killing of Karen Silk­wood and Escape from Sobi­bor, has writ­ten a provoca­tive his­to­ry of how U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies, such as the Immi­gra­tion and Nat­u­ral­iza­tion Ser­vice, the FBI, the CIA, and Con­gress, aid­ed and abet­ted an open” door pol­i­cy for Nazi war crim­i­nals soon after the Sec­ond World War. Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Jon Lof­tus, whose books—The Secret War Against the Jews (1994), Unholy Trin­i­ty (1998), Amer­i­ca’s Nazi Secret (2010) — were wide­ly read in the U.S., Rashke’s tome goes much deep­er in detail­ing our gov­ern­ments com­plic­i­ty in allow­ing Nazi war crim­i­nals and their col­lab­o­ra­tors to enter the coun­try, jus­ti­fy­ing their action in the name of using Nazis as weapons against the Sovi­et Union dur­ing the Cold War. 

Focus­ing on the tri­als and tribu­la­tion of John Iwan” Dem­jan­juk, Rashke asks why it took almost six­ty years for the Unit­ed States to bring him to jus­tice. His answer is found in the para­noia sur­round­ing the Cold War when our gov­ern­ment was deter­mined to use use­ful” Nazi war crim­i­nals and col­lab­o­ra­tors to work for the U.S. in Europe as spies, sabo­teurs and in the U.S., sci­en­tists to devel­op advanced weapons to be used when the Cold War became a hot one. Using loop­holes in our immi­gra­tion laws, thou­sands of alleged for­mer Nazis and Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors, who had not yet been con­vict­ed of a war crime, were wel­comed to the U.S., while at the same time using the Immi­gra­tion and Nat­u­ral­iza­tion Act (1952) to pre­vent thou­sands of Jew­ish refugees from enter­ing the coun­try. 

This is a care­ful­ly researched book, which includes infor­ma­tion hith­er­to undis­closed to the gen­er­al pub­lic, such as Rashke’s asser­tion that Nazi sci­en­tists work­ing for the U.S. gov­ern­ment con­duct­ed dead­ly mus­tard gas exper­i­ments on unwit­ting U.S. ser­vice­men at a secret gas cham­ber in Mary­land, mod­eled after the one in Dachau, leav­ing some injured for life. 

The heroes of Rashke’s riv­et­ing his­to­ry are Con­gress­woman Eliz­a­beth Holtz­man and Jus­tice Depart­ment pros­e­cu­tor Eli Rosen­baum, who worked for decades to hold hear­ings that led to the cre­ation of the Office of Spe­cial Inves­ti­ga­tions (OSI) which suc­cess­ful­ly pros­e­cut­ed many of these Nazi war crim­i­nals. In this con­text, Rashke rais­es many ques­tions, such as the one Dem­jan­juk posed in one of his tri­als, If you had been me in 1942, what would you have done?” Rashke’s response presents the read­er with the bit­ing conun­drum as to how, Nazi war crim­i­nals aside, do we dis­tin­guish the sec­ond tier of war crim­i­nals, col­lab­o­ra­tors, who will­ing­ly col­lab­o­rat­ed with the Nazis and those who were forced to do so. It is unclear from the evi­dence that con­vict­ed Dem­jan­juk (who died in 2012) which type of col­lab­o­ra­tor he was and does it matter?
Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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