The Nazis Next Door by Eric Lichtblau is a compelling reminder of how quickly man’s inhumanity to man has been forgotten. Many in the FBI, CIA, the space program, and other agencies of the U.S. government teamed up with war-criminal Nazis to combat the Soviets. As World War II came to an end there were those in the government who were more concerned about the next great conflict — the threat of Communism — and saw the Nazis as yesterday’s enemy. The book delves into two issues. The first chapter in the book examines an important topic, the myth of the concentration camp liberation. The second narrative is the story of the people who worked so hard for decades to find war criminals given safe haven by the FBI, CIA, and military. Elise Cooper interviewed author Eric Lichtblau for the Jewish Book Council.
Elise Cooper: In the first chapter of The Nazis Next Door you expose “the myth of liberation.” Can you explain?
Eric Lichtblau: When I started, that didn’t even occur to me as something I was going to examine, but I came to realize slowly that was an important part of the story. Not just how easily Nazis and Nazi collaborators had gotten into America, but how much difficulty the survivors had in getting out of the concentration camps. History has forgotten what happened to the survivors. There is an image that they were embraced by the Allied forces as they flooded out from the camps, given warm showers, beds, and plentiful food. It was really not like that at all. Jewish groups complained to President Truman, who did not ignore them. After an investigation there was a blistering and condemning report, lost to history, by the dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Earl Harrison. This report to Truman stated, “As matters now stand, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them.” Even though conditions did improve, some survivors were kept in the DP camps for as long as five years. They were still confined behind barbed wire, under armed guard.
EC: Who was mainly behind these conditions?
EL: The blame has to go to U.S. Army General George Patton, who was in charge of the displaced persons camps. He had sort of an odd fondness almost for the Nazi prisoners, believe it or not. He believed that they were the ones in the best position to efficiently run the camps, and he gave them supervisory approval to basically lord over the Jews and the other survivors. I hope the book makes people aware of the horrific conditions of the camps and Patton’s overt anti-Semitism.
EC: Why were the Jews not allowed into the U.S. after the war?
EL: In the early months, and the first few years after the war, beginning in mid-1945, there were only a very limited number of immigration visas to get into the United States. Of all the survivors in the camps, only a few thousand came in the first year or so. A visa was a precious commodity, and there were immigration policymakers in Washington who were on record saying that they didn’t think the Jews should be let in because they were “lazy people” or “entitled people” and they didn’t want them in. But there were many, many thousands of Nazi collaborators who got visas to the U.S. while the survivors did not, even though they had been, for instance, the head of a Nazi concentration camp, the warden at a camp, or the secret police chief in Lithuania who signed the death warrants for people. The Displaced Person’s Act opened up visas to Jews but only four or five years after the war ended.
EC: What do you think was the main factor in allowing the Nazis into the U.S.?
EL: There was this blind spot of the benefit of having them help in the Cold War effort. Remember the Dulles quote, paraphrasing, ‘I would deal with the devil himself if it would help national security.’
EC: Who do you think was the person most responsible for the Nazis coming to America?
EL: The head of the CIA from 1952 to 1961, Allen Dulles. He had the mindset that the known Nazis could be used as intelligence assets and scientists helpful in the U.S. missile program. I do not think he was overtly anti-Semitic. I think it was mostly the Cold War mindset, which led to going morally astray. Unfortunately, the gains in intelligence were not the same as with the scientists. As I wrote about in the book, most gave information that was garbage or they turned out to be double agents. After it became clear these assets were not helpful, the information was still kept under wraps to avoid the public relations embarrassment. The CIA knowingly helped Nazi figures, intervened on their behalf, and obstructed investigations as late as 1995.
EC: What would you want readers to get out of the book?
EL: For those who lived in dire conditions in the DP camps it seemed no one cared about the survivors. I hope readers weigh the philosophical dilemma of the clear national security gains with the Nazis’ immoral background. The book was written as a reminder of why we have to be aware of genocide. I wrote it as an American Jew, but also because I thought it is an important part of history that needed to be told.
Elise Cooper lives in Los Angeles and has written numerous national security articles supporting Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A’s for many different outlets including the Military Press. She has had the pleasure to interview bestselling authors from many different genres.
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