ALBANY, N.Y. (Mar. 11)
As the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) ends its first year of existence, the unit’s third director is about to be appointed. The man scheduled to take the reins on April 1 for the government’s efforts to seek out, prosecute and deport Nazi war criminals living in America is Allan Ryan Jr. He will replace Walter Rockler, who leaves the directorship on March 31 to resume his private low practice. (From March, 1979 – May, 1979 Martin Mendelsohn was director.)
Asked what motivated him to accept this awesome responsibility, Ryan told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his involvement in the Feodor Fedorenko case piqued his interest in Nazi war criminals. As an assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General i, 1978, he wrote the brief and argued the appeal in the government’s case against Fedorenko, an admitted SS guard at Treblinka concentration camp.
Fedorenko’s case in Miami was decided against the government on July 25, 1978. This decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals on June 28, 1979 and the trial judge was ordered to strip Fedorenko of citizenship. The defendant filed a motion for a re-hearing to the Appellate Court, which was denied on Aug. 13, 1979. On Feb. 19, 1980, the defendant’s petition for certiorari was granted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
CONFIDENT ABOUT OSI’S FUTURE ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Ryan, a 34-year-old graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, where he was president of the Law Review, is serious and confident about the OSI’s future accomplishments. In addition to his 1977-1980 position in the Solicitor General’s office, his legal experience includes a clerkship for Supreme Court Justice Byron White, service as an attorney in the U.S. Marine Corps, and an association with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Williams, Connolly and Califano.
While meeting with Rockler to discuss the Fedorenko case, he asked to be considered for the OSI directorship at the end of Rockler’s tenure on March 31. As the culmination of a series of personal and political clashes between Rockler and Mendelsohn, and to insure continuity at Rockler’s departure, Ryan become deputy director on Jan. 7, replacing Mendelsohn. (Mendelsohn is now elsewhere in the Criminal Division, in a “fairly senior capacity,” according to Ryan.)
“I took the job (with OSI) because I was convinced it was a job that needed doing,” Ryan said. “There are relatively few areas in law which you can be certain every morning when you wake up that you are doing something important to see that justice is done. After having been through Yod Vashem (the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem) I have no doubt that what I’m doing must be done. There are people still alive who took part in the Nazi process of inhumanity and some of them are in this country.” He said he feels “obligated to do everything humanly possible under the law to bring them into account.”
“Ideally the goal of the OSI should be to locate every Nazi war criminal and collaborator in the United States, denaturalize them if they are citizens, and deport them all,” he continued. “As a practical matter, it’s very unlikely we’ll find every single one. They don’t advertise their pasts.”
OSI HAS SOME 400 FILES
The OSI now has some 400 files and is “opening cases literally every day,” Ryan said. This total includes the 250 cases that the unit “inherited” from the Justice Department’s Special litigation Unit (SLU). Stressing that not every lead turns out to be a war criminal, he referred to one preliminary investigation that revealed a named suspect had in fact been born in 1946.
Assistant Attorney General Philip Heymann, who oversees OSI, wrote a letter to American Jewish leaders last Jan. 11 saying, “Our goal for the immediate future is to reach the end of 1980 with all files in one of two statuses: either having been filed with the court or having been closed entirely for lack of substance.”
Clarifying Heymann’s statement, Ryan said this was true only of the 250 SLU cases. He stressed that no case would be “swept under the carpet” just to meet the deadline. The unit is aiming for the Dec. 31 date, but will continue investigations beyond that date whenever necessary.
Judging from the U.S. government’s past accomplishments regarding Nazi war criminals, will Ryan ever achieve even one deportation? Since the SLU was created by the Justice Department in 1977, what has actually been accomplished?
According to records, only four new cases have been announced since then, in November and December, 1979, bringing the total of cases under litigation to 16 at this writing. (The other 12 cases were started before the initiation of the SLU, by a Task Force set up in 1974 and based in New York City. The SLU since its initiation, did not begin any new cases.)
The bottom line is: the United States, after more than 30 years, has not deported a Nazi war criminal for his crimes back to the country where the crimes were committed. Several years ago, however, Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan, a Queens housewife and former concentration camp supervisor, was extradited to West Germany to stand trial.
Meanwhile, every year witnesses and war criminals die. In some cases, OSI investigations have proven the subjects deceased. The age range of the alleged Nazi war criminals under investigation is from 60 to 80, with the majority in their 60s. Every day, “things are moving slowly to a biological solution,” in the words of Simon Wiesenthal. “Unless justice for Nazi war criminals is swift, it may, in some cases, be superceded by biology.”
“In the long run, ” Ryan said, “the only way to judge the (OSI) operation will be by results.” He sees no “sunset on the office” in the near future, and believes the government is committed to pursuing the issue as long as there are Nazi war criminals living here. He is convinced that some Nazi war criminals will eventually be deported. And when he achieves the first deportation of a Nazi war criminal, he said he will have little time for celebration. He’ll be too busy working on the deportation of the next one.