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Over more than three decades, mostly at the US Justice Department, Eli Rosenbaum has made a career and a calling out of tracking down Nazi war criminals and more recent human-rights abusers.

Illustration by Jonathan Bartlett
Photograph by Justin Tsucalas

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“So this, of course, is our best-known Nazi case. This is John Demjanjuk,” Eli M. Rosenbaum W’76 WG’77 says as we stride through his US Justice Department quarters in a nondescript Washington office building.

Demjanjuk, a Cleveland, Ohio, autoworker, was the reluctant star of a long-running legal saga replete with faulty eyewitness testimony, judicial reversals, and, finally, a precedent-setting conviction by a German court in May 2011. The 91-year-old died in 2012, while the case was on appeal.

Rosenbaum indicates a facsimile on the corridor wall: “This is a captured Nazi personnel record which was at the heart of the case for several decades. That’s his photo, his identifying information—name, date of birth, parents, place of birth, et cetera. And, of course, he challenged this throughout litigation here and in Germany and in Israel, and said it was a KGB forgery. That used to be a very common defense. But it wasn’t a forgery.

“It’s interesting the SS officer who signed here was named Teufel,” Rosenbaum adds. The word means devil in German.

We’re meeting on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year—a holiday for many. Not, apparently, for the lanky, mustachioed director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy, who is dressed formally in a black pinstripe suit. Rosenbaum’s work ethic is legendary. Save for a single four-year break, the 61-year-old Harvard-trained lawyer has spent his entire career at the Justice Department, tracking war criminals. His sole hobby, he says, is collecting rare memorabilia about the fate of Nazi perpetrators.

“He’s relentless. He’s dogged,” says Sara J. Bloomfield, the longtime director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, whose historians and collections have aided Rosenbaum’s investigations. Chasing down Nazi perpetrators isn’t so much Rosenbaum’s work as “his calling,” she says, “because his dedication is fierce, impassioned. He goes so above and beyond in his pursuit of justice.”

More than 70 years after the end of the Holocaust and World War II, there isn’t a day to waste. “We race the Grim Reaper in these cases,” says Rosenbaum, the 1997 recipient of Penn Law School’s Honorary Fellowship Award for public service. “We always have. From the very beginning, when I started here, we were being told, ‘Work as fast as you responsibly can—because these people are dying.’”

Thanks largely to then-US Representative Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY), the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) was established in 1979 to find people implicated in the Nazi persecution of civilians, strip them of US citizenship, and deport them to countries with jurisdiction to prosecute their original crimes.

In 2004, Rosenbaum’s portfolio as OSI director was broadened to include the pursuit of human-rights violators from more recent conflicts, in Guatemala, Bosnia, Rwanda, and elsewhere. Six years later, OSI merged with another criminal unit, and Rosenbaum assumed his current title. But Nazi investigations continue, alongside the newer ones. As long as one perpetrator is still alive, this country’s leading Nazi hunter—and, arguably, the world’s—vows to remain on the job.

A rhetorical note: Rosenbaum dislikes being called a Nazi hunter—it’s too reductive, too heroic-sounding, too much like the movies. Rosenbaum has made his own mark on popular culture as the model for at least two fictional investigators, in Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller and Alan Elsner’s The Nazi Hunter. And the work, he concedes, “has its incredibly dramatic moments—I’ve knocked on more than a few doors, as have my colleagues.” But “to call it Nazi hunting makes it look like a sport,” he says. “And it’s not a sport, it’s not a game—it is something that has to be done by professionals.”

Eli M. Rosenbaum

That Rosenbaum would be among them was not always clear to him. Growing up in Westbury, New York, he thought he might join the family business: running a chain of discount stores.

But there were portents in his background. Both of his parents, German Jews, fled the Third Reich with their families in the late 1930s, after the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom left no doubt of the Nazis’ violent intentions. His father’s family emigrated from Dresden to New York, his mother’s from Berlin to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. His parents later met in New York, after his father’s wartime service in US Army infantry and intelligence units.

“Among the regrets I have is that I never got to ask my grandfather, my father’s father, where he found the courage—what moved him to finally leave the country,” Rosenbaum says. “He was successful there. He and a partner had a chain of what we used to call 5-and-10-cent stores. He just gave it all up.”

Several of Rosenbaum’s more distant relatives—among them his paternal grandfather’s siblings—stayed in Germany and perished. “I don’t know the details,” he says, “and maybe I should. It was never talked about.” (Silence about those left behind was common in postwar American Jewish families. I learned only recently from an aunt that my late father, Abraham, had been named for a great-uncle of mine who died in the Holocaust. I, too, know no details.)

At war’s end, Rosenbaum’s father’s unit, tasked with questioning high-value prisoners, interrogated Leni Riefenstahl, director of the famous Nazi propaganda films Triumph of the Will and Olympia. (Rosenbaum would later share her testimony with his professor in an introductory film class at Penn, a rare break from his “all-business-studies-all-the-time” curriculum.) The day after the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich was liberated, his father was dispatched to assess conditions there.

He mentioned the mission to his son, then 14 or 15, while the two were driving through a blizzard in upstate New York: “And I remember saying, ‘What did you see?’ I didn’t hear any response from my father. So I finally looked over and there he was, his eyes welled with tears, his mouth open … He couldn’t talk, and he never did,” though he later showed Rosenbaum the order sending him to Dachau and an Army report on the camp to which he had contributed.

Other incidents piqued Rosenbaum’s curiosity about the Holocaust. In 1967, he watched a television version of Peter Weiss’s play, The Investigation, which incorporated testimony from the 1963-65 Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. He also remembers reading Simon Wiesenthal’s 1967 memoir, The Murderers Among Us. Some two decades later, Rosenbaum and Wiesenthal, who was probably the most celebrated of private Nazi hunters, would fall out bitterly over the wartime culpability of the Austrian president and former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, whom Wiesenthal was defending.

Meticulous and detail-oriented, Rosenbaum has prepared for a discussion of his years at Penn—where he graduated summa cum laude and completed a five-year BS/MBA program at Wharton—with a long list of favorite professors, courses, anecdotes, and lessons learned. “I would say I was as happy at Penn as I’ve ever been in my life,” he says, fighting back emotion.

His appreciation for both the University and Philadelphia were enhanced by his experience of isolation at Cornell, where he spent his freshman year. The verdant Ithaca, New York, campus had initially charmed him: “It’s gorgeous—till October, as I found out, and then it’s frozen tundra.”

Entering Wharton as a sophomore transfer student entailed a scramble to complete requirements for his finance major. Prerequisites for the introductory finance course included statistics and calculus. He asked Finance Professor John P. Lutz whether it would be feasible to take all three simultaneously. “I wouldn’t recommend it, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible,” Rosenbaum recalls Lutz saying.

But Rosenbaum struggled with the first exam, which required facility with calculus, and received his lowest grade ever: F-plus. He told Lutz he realized he’d probably better drop the course. The response surprised him: “No, I saw a glimmer of recognition—I think you’ll manage this.”

“And then,” Rosenbaum recalls, “very uncharacteristically for the shy person I was around a seemingly intimidating professor, I said, ‘Professor, forgive me, I’ve never gotten an F- plus before, and, actually, I’ve never heard of an F-plus. What is it?’

“And without missing a beat, he said, ‘Oh, that—that’s failure with distinction.’ And I’ve always said, ‘That’s what I want on my tombstone: Failure with distinction.’ ”

Lutz, Rosenbaum adds, “taught me something about mercy—because when I got my grade at the end of the semester, it was clear that he had just taken that F-plus and tossed it in the garbage.” Rosenbaum says he has applied that lesson since, as both a teacher and a prosecutor.

Another favorite teacher was History and Sociology of Science associate professor Mark B. Adams, whose course on the history of eugenics “probably played some role in my career path.” Rosenbaum researched the eugenics movement in Norway, and Adams encouraged him to present his paper at a professional conference—a rare honor for an undergraduate. Adams also helped him secure the University’s backing to pursue research in Norwegian archives on the way to a semester of study in London.

From Adams, Rosenbaum says, “I learned something about inspiring confidence in people that I tried to bring to my work when I was a deputy director and director at OSI.”

No longer interested in joining the family business after Penn, Rosenbaum applied to law school and was accepted to Harvard. There, in concert with the university’s Jewish Law Students Association, he organized a national petition drive in favor of abolishing West Germany’s statute of limitations for Nazi-era murders.He secured a meeting with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Harvard’s 1979 Commencement speaker, who was sympathetic to the petition. It was Rosenbaum’s first encounter with a head of state.

Soon afterwards, West Germany agreed to extend the statute indefinitely, clearing the way for additional prosecutions. Rosenbaum credits the move primarily to the 1979 airing in Germany of the American television miniseries Holocaust, whose soap-operatic take on the tragedy had a galvanizing effect on German public opinion.

As a second-year law student, Rosenbaum read a story about the creation of OSI and immediately thought: “That’s the job for me.”

He called OSI’s first director, Martin Mendelsohn, first thing the next morning and asked whether he might be in the market for a summer law clerk. Mendelsohn asked Rosenbaum whether he knew Alan Dershowitz, the celebrated Harvard law professor. Rosenbaum said that he had just earned an A-plus in Dershowitz’s legal ethics course. He got the job.

Now he tells the Justice Department’s summer interns: “Be careful. My career is a summer internship gone awry.”

On this balmy October day, Rosenbaum’s modest office, its carpet soaked from an air-conditioning leak, is uninhabitable. We drop in for a quick look at his stacks of books and papers and his celebrity wall. Two fans whir,slowly drying the carpet.

“In 1995,” he recalls, “I had the extraordinary privilege of escorting Miep Gies, who was the heroine of the Anne Frank story, to meet then-Attorney General [Janet] Reno.” Other photographs show Rosenbaum with President Bill Clinton and with the Holocaust memoirist Elie Wiesel—“one of my heroes.” There’s also a photo commemorating a 1987 appearance, during his break from the Justice Department, on CNN’s Crossfire. Defending OSI’s work, hefaced off against two conservative critics, Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak. “They double-teamed me,” he says, not without pride.

According to Richard Rashke’s Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals, the subject of that debate was Karl Linnas, a retired Long Island, New York, land surveyor accused of having overseen the murder of several thousand Jews in Estonia during the war. According to Rashke, Buchanan argued that the Soviet evidence was inaccurate—that, at most, Linnas was responsible for the deaths of four or five hundred Jews.

“How many Jewish bodies are enough to meet the quota?” Rosenbaum responded, leaving Buchanan speechless.

Neal M. Sher, who served as OSI director from 1983 to 1994, says that he was impressed with Rosenbaum from the start, and recommended his hiring after law school. “I was drawn to Eli because of his dedication, his brains, his commitment, his savvy,” says Sher, and over the years, “I came to rely on his judgment very heavily.”

Working together on the high-profile case of a former Nazi rocket scientist, Arthur L. Rudolph, “solidified” their bond, Sher says. Rosenbaum’s interest in Rudolph was sparked by a discovery in his final year at law school. Browsing a Cambridge, Massachusetts, used bookstore, he found a 1980 survivor memoir, Dora, by the French Resistance fighter Jean Michel, about a Nazi concentration camp where slave laborers toiled in underground tunnels under horrific conditions to produce V-2 rockets. “People died in large numbers,” Rosenbaum says. “I thought it was surprising that we hadn’t heard of it.” A second book, The Rocket Team, by Frederick Ira Ordway and Mitchell R. Sharpe, recounted the history of the Nazi rocketry program, and Rudolph, chief of operations at Dora’s Mittelwerk factory, figured prominently.

Like the more famous Wernher von Braun (who died in 1977), Rudolph had come to the United States after the war in Operation Paperclip, a US program to recruit German scientists, engineers, and technicians. Before he retired, Rudolph had been one of NASA’s leading lights, directing development of the Saturn V rocket that put a man on the moon. No question, says Rosenbaum, “he was absolutely brilliant at what he did.”

But his activities at Dora were troubling. Rosenbaum brought the case to Sher on his first day at OSI after Harvard, and got the go-ahead. “It was an extraordinarily complicated evidentiary jigsaw puzzle,” Rosenbaum says.

The novice lawyer found evidence, including Rudolph’s own testimony in a US Army war crimes trial, showing that the engineer was no detached bystander. He was directly responsible, Rosenbaum says, for getting the SS to send laborers “to work under those grotesquely inhumane conditions.” And when prisoners died, “he would go to the SS and say, ‘Send more.’”

To save years of court battles, OSI made a deal with Rudolph, allowing him to relinquish his American citizenship and return to Germany. “They investigated him, and—this is typical—didn’t prosecute,” Rosenbaum says.

Since 1979, working the coldest of cases, OSI and its successor office have won court decisions against 108 participants in “Nazi crimes of persecution.” In all, the office sought the “denaturalization and removal or extradition” of 137 such people. OSI lost eight cases and asked that two inherited from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, which previously had handled such prosecutions, be dismissed. The rest of the suspects died before trial or decision. The Justice Department also maintains a “watch list,” designed to prevent human-rights violators from entering the country.

But of the Nazi perpetrators removed from the United States, just 10 were charged or prosecuted abroad; eight more were charged abroad, but died before leaving the US.

“In the vast majority of cases,” European countries “did not discharge their moral obligation to prosecute, and that’s something history will not look favorably upon,” Rosenbaum says. Sher blames the US State Department for not having put more pressure on Germany and other US allies: “Our State Department refused to push the Germans to do the right thing. It would have opened terrible sores within German society, no question about it, and my answer is, ‘So what?’ There were bigger sores when it was Nazi Germany.”

For all his fervor—or maybe because of it—the frustrations of the job told on Rosenbaum. He decided to leave OSI in 1984.

“The main reason was, the work was too depressing,” he says. “And there was too much of it, and not enough people to handle all of it, and I used to work nights and weekends, and it got to the point where … if I didn’t work throughout a weekend, I felt guilty that some war criminal was going free because I wasn’t working.” (To this day, Rosenbaum says he also feels “very guilty” about neglecting friends, as well as his wife and two children, because of his focus on work.)

Securing survivor testimony could be particularly wrenching. Rosenbaum remembers his “hardest experience” as a trip to Israel to interview survivor witnesses. “Almost all … have a point at which they’re going to fall apart—usually when talking about members of their family,” he says, and he would always regret causing them pain. But when he asked if they wished to continue, “They would all say, ‘Yes, justice is important.’”

While he admired their courage, “it was all very difficult,” he says, “and I was exhausted.”

So he returned to New York as an associate with a corporate law firm, Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett. But he missed the high stakes of his old job. He left, after about a year, to become general counsel for the World Jewish Congress—and was drawn into an investigation of Austria’s Waldheim. One thinks of the signature line of Al Pacino’s character, Michael Corleone, in The Godfather: Part Three: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

Rosenbaum soon became embroiled in an international drama of accusation and cover-up. In his 1993 book Betrayal, written with William Hoffer, he recalls being buried in “a swelling sea of paperwork in a babble of languages” as he researched Waldheim’s knowledge and possible complicity in civilian murders in the Balkans and the deportation of Greek Jews to death camps.

A former Wehrmacht intelligence officer, Waldheim had concealed the extent and location of his wartime service, and claimed to have been a mere translator. But documents and photographs suggested deeper involvement in prisoner interrogations and seemed to reveal his chumminess with Nazi leaders who were implicated in criminal acts. With each revelation, his story changed. Defending Waldheim, who was then running for president of Austria and already had held the world’s top human-rights post, was his Austrian compatriot, Wiesenthal.

In his 2016 book, The Nazi Hunters, Andrew Nagorski depicts the Rosenbaum-Wiesenthal clash as a vitriolic battle of the Nazi-hunting titans—a somewhat “overblown” portrait, Rosenbaum says, though his anger towards Wiesenthal, who died in 2005, was genuine enough at the time.

The conflict was “ironic because I grew up lionizing Wiesenthal,” says Rosenbaum. “And I still say that without [his] tenacious, often brilliant advocacy, the efforts in Germany and elsewhere to pursue justice on behalf of the victims of Nazi crimes would have fizzled out.”

Waldheim’s lack of candor about his unsavory past didn’t keep him from winning the Austrian presidency.But the Justice Department put him on its watch list, barring him from entering the United States.

Meanwhile, Sher was urging Rosenbaum to return to OSI—this time as deputy director in charge of investigations. “The mission still had enormous meaning to me,” Rosenbaum says, and he convinced himself that the supervisory position “might make the job more manageable.” Maintaining his “singular focus” and grueling work days, he would become principal deputy director in 1990, acting director in 1994, and director in 1995.

As the Cold War ended, and US investigators gained access to Eastern European archives, OSI’s caseload exploded. According to an internal study partly based on the annual reports of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, during the period 1990-2010, Rosenbaum says, “my office brought and won more cases by far than all of the other countries in the world combined.”

One victory was in the Demjanjuk case, previously OSI’s greatest embarrassment. Whole books have been devoted to the imbroglio, which began in 1977, before the establishment of OSI. “I was not involved,” Rosenbaum says, “in what we call ‘Demjanjuk One,’” which included Demjanjuk’s extradition and 1988 conviction in Israel as “Ivan the Terrible,” a particularly sadistic guard at the Treblinka death camp. But in 1993, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the conviction, based in part on faulty eyewitness testimony, sparing Demjanjuk the gallows. That same year, the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals cited OSI for “prosecutorial misconduct” for having withheld potentially exculpatory evidence.

But the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, while not Ivan the Terrible, was no innocent. The ID card now hanging at Justice suggested that he had trained at the notorious Trawniki camp for concentration camp guards, and served (among other places) at Sobibor, another Nazi death camp in Poland. With the support of Attorney General Reno, Rosenbaum decided in 1999 to go after Demjanjuk again, provoking another decade of US litigation.

After OSI won the denaturalization and the deportation cases, a defense attorney told Rosenbaum: “You know you’ll never deport my client, because no one will take him.” Rosenbaum says that his heart sank, “because I knew that he was probably right.”

But he persisted, persuading the Munich authorities to charge Demjanjuk in 2009 on the American theory of the case: that Nazi concentration camps existed “to persecute people,” and that guards, even if they couldn’t be linked to specific crimes, formed part of that “common design.”

Explaining the approach to a German colleague, Rosenbaum said: “If you decide to stab me to death, and another person stands outside the door and holds it closed while you chase me around the room, in American law you’re both guilty of first-degree murder. And I can’t imagine that German law is any different.”

The German court agreed, convicting Demjanjuk—and igniting the possibility of prosecuting thousands of low-ranking Nazis and collaborators. Except that, by then, most of them were dead. “The frustration, of course, is that this could have been done for many, many years—it didn’t require the Demjanjuk case,” Rosenbaum says. “So it’s a tragedy. You would have had a huge pool of potential defendants.”

Two other cases illustrate Rosenbaum’s tenacity and working methods.

The Ukrainian-born Jakob Reimer, like Demjanjuk, had trained at Trawniki, which Rosenbaum calls “a school for mass murder.” But the former New York potato-chip salesman was so adept “at creating a sympathetic impression,” Rosenbaum says, that, in the early 1980s, the case was recommended for closure. Then he found evidence that Reimer had been in Warsaw and other Jewish ghettos in Poland when they were liquidated.

When Rosenbaum interviewed Reimer in 1992, he “looked like someone I could trust to hire as a babysitter for my children.” But by “peeling away the onion layer by layer, we finally got to a very dramatic point,” Rosenbaum recalls. “I asked him about seeing people die. You could almost see him thinking, ‘I wonder if Rosenbaum knows this—better give him something.’”

Reimer first claimed to have missed a mass execution by oversleeping. Then, challenged by Rosenbaum, he said he had instead hit his head on a rock and been knocked unconscious. “By the time I got there, everyone was dead,” he insisted.

“They weren’t all dead, were they?” Rosenbaum said.

“‘Okay,’ he finally allowed, ‘they weren’t all dead.’ You could almost see him cracking. ‘There was a sea of bodies, and there was one man pointing at his head.’

“And I said, ‘You finished him off, didn’t you?’

“And he said, ‘I’m afraid so.’ ”

“You try not to imagine these scenes,” Rosenbaum says. “You do, anyway.”

Reimer died while the deportation case was on appeal.

An even bigger target was Aleksandras Lileikis, chief of the Lithuanian Security Police for the Vilnius region, where tens of thousands of Jews were massacred. After the war, according to Eric Lichtblau’s 2014 book, The Nazis Next Door, Lileikis had been recruited to spy in Europe for the CIA. Although his intelligence file noted his possible connection to the shooting of Jews, he was allowed to immigrate to the United States in 1955.

In 1983, Rosenbaum knocked on the door of Lileikis’ house in Norwood, Massachusetts. “I will always remember how calm he was, how sophisticated,” he says. Lileikis didn’t deny having been security police chief, but insisted he’d had nothing to do with executing Jews. Rosenbaum showed him a list of 52 imprisoned Jews to be handed over to the Nazis—with Lileikis’ name typed at the bottom. “I have never seen this before,” Lileikis said. “Show me something that I signed.”

It took the collapse of the Soviet Union to make that possible. In 1993, OSI historian Mike MacQueen, working in Lithuanian archives, unearthed numerous documents with Lileikis’ signature—including death warrants for Gitta Kaplan and her six-year-old daughter, Fruma.

In court, Lileikis “argued that he was a disembodied issuer of orders,” Rosenbaum recalls. “To this day, a half-smile comes over my face when I think of that” defense—a reversal of “the classic Nuremberg defense of ‘I only followed orders.’”

The judge ruled for OSI, and Lileikis returned to Lithuania, where Rosenbaum says he became “the first person prosecuted for a genocide-type offense in any of the successor states to the former Soviet Union.” But the Lithuanian court, accepting Lileikis’ claim of ill health, suspended proceedings against him. In 2000, the 93-year-old died a free man—after writing a memoir, Rosenbaum says.

After years of trying, Mark M. Richard, at the time Rosenbaum’s boss at the Justice Department, received approval in 1999 to produce a report on OSI’s history. As director, Rosenbaum, like Sher before him, had resisted the project, considering it both premature and a diversion from OSI’s more pressing investigative and prosecutorial mission. Another Justice Department prosecutoroutside OSI, Judith Feigin, was tasked with the job, and produced a roughly 600-page draft report that Rosenbaum says was “riddled with errors” that he did not have time to fix.

The report languished unseen and, Rosenbaum says, unfinished—until 2010, when the nonprofit National Security Archive sued for its release under the Freedom of Information Act. The Justice Department’s Office of Enforcement Operations provided the archive with a heavily redacted version, and, soon afterwards, an earlier version of the full report was leaked to The New York Times.

The report recounted the “enormous hurdles” OSI faced in its prosecutions, and also discussed the United States’ role in providing a “safe haven” for some Nazi collaborators after World War II. Among the report’s weaknesses, Rosenbaum says, is that it “totally ignores how this effort actually got started and mostly ignores a key obstacle that we faced in building and litigating these cases”—the reluctance of US courts to credit Soviet-provided evidence.

Bloomfield says that Rosenbaum’s investigations have shaped historical understanding of Nazi perpetrators. While some were anti-Semitic, others were motivated more by “peer approval, career advancement, greed—a whole host of very human things,” she says. “It’s a dangerous thing to think they were just a bunch of evil monsters.”

“People like Reimer … were high achievers,” Rosenbaum says, by way of example. “He was successful in everything he set out to do, including here in the United States. And so when the Germans were in charge, he sought to achieve for them.”

Rosenbaum adds: “I still don’t understand how a person can kill a child,” an action that was “repeated and repeated and repeated until a million Jewish children lay dead.”

One of his office’s newer human-rights cases, stemming from the 1982 massacre of more than 250 civilians in the rural village of Dos Erres, Guatemala, involved a similar atrocity. The killings began, Rosenbaum says, when a Guatemalan soldier, Gilberto Jordan, threw a baby down a well. In 2010, a federal court in Florida revoked Jordan’s US citizenship and sentenced him to 10 years in prison for having concealed his participation in the massacre.

Since 2004, in partnership with the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, US attorneys, and other federal agencies, Rosenbaum’s office also has developed cases involving the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims during the 1992-95 Bosnian War. In one recent case, Mladen Mitrovic, of Loganville, Georgia, was found guilty by a federal jury of having lied on a US naturalization application by omitting mention of his service as a guard at a Serbian-run prison camp in Bosnia. In August 2016, he was sentenced to 57 months in prison after witnesses testified that he had beaten, tortured, and threatened camp inmates.

The newer crimes are “not all genocidal,” Rosenbaum says, so “it becomes more likely that you can find a surviving witness.” But in part because the United States didn’t fight ground wars in these later conflicts, “we did not capture anything like the vast quantity of incriminating documents that we did in Europe at the end of World War II.”

On the waning Nazi front, 12 years after winning its denaturalization and deportation cases, the Justice Department is still trying to find a country to accept Jakiw Palij, another Trawniki guard. “No country will admit him,” Rosenbaum says.

Nevertheless, the hunt for Nazis “is not over,” he says. “It will be, in the near future. I think we’re in the very last stage of this effort. The [Simon] Wiesenthal Center has said—correctly, I believe—that more than 99 percent of the perpetrators have died. Grotesquely, the vast majority of them have gotten away with their crimes. But there are still some alive, and we continue to intend to leave no stone unturned.”

Julia M. Klein, a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia, has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Mother Jones, The Nation, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter @JuliaMKlein.

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    1 Response

    1. Judith Feigin

      I am the author of the referenced report on the Department of Justice’s efforts to find, denaturalize and deport Nazi collaborators who came to the United States after World War II. Eli Rosenbaum says that the report ignores how the effort got started and the reluctance of U.S. courts to credit Soviet-provided evidence. In fact, the genesis of the office is covered on pp. 1-32. The difficulty in presenting Soviet-sourced evidence, and indeed, the even greater difficulty in getting access to that evidence and authenticating it, is discussed in various chapters (see e.g. pp. 11-12, 234, 285, 535-543). Anyone interested in reading the report can find it at
      Additionally, I note Eli’s claim that the report languished unseen until 2010 when a FOIA request was filed. That is inaccurate. The entire report was reviewed and edited by Mark Richard, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, who oversaw Eli and the office for much of his career. Moreover, I hand delivered each chapter to Eli as it was written (beginning in 2001). Every editing change I made was also given to him. Although he had years to comment, he never offered any corrections.
      Judy Feigin

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