Behind the Headlines Guilt by Innuendo

On May 16, CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” devoted a segment to the subject of suspected Nazi war criminals admitted for permanent residence into the United States. A Boston attorney, formerly employed by the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, charged that more than 300 Nazi collaborators from the Soviet Republic of Byelorussia are living in the U.S. at this time.

Some are still employed by government and quasi-government agencies, he said. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was identified during the program as having employed several alleged collaborators.

RFE/RL is a private corporation which is supported by annual grants from Congress administered through the Board for Intentional Broadcasting, a government agency. Its shortwave radio broadcasts reach an estimated 40-50 million listeners per week in 21 languages of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

In recent years, thanks to the arrival in the West of more than 250,000 Soviet Jewish emigres, RFE/RL has drawn upon the talents of hundreds of these emigres to enrich its programming. Indeed many of them have been hired as staff and free-lance writers, editors, announcers and researchers in our Munich headquarters and in the Paris and New York bureaus.

HIRING PROCEDURES EXPLAINED

As the result of the editing of the film taped by CBS in the New York Bureau, the implication was made that RFE/RL is knowingly providing a haven for Nazi war criminals. The facts ore as follows:

Since the inception of the radios in the early 1950′s, the organization has relied on appropriate governmental investigative agencies to clear prospective employees and free-lancers. RFE/RL has no independent investigative capability and therefore must depend on the information provided by federal agencies in Washington.

As this writer told Mike Wallace on camera during the filming of the “60 Minutes” program, once these individuals are hired after clearance we judge their performance by their dedication to the policies of our radios, which advocate American democratic values and vigorously condemn any form of totalitarianism. Wallace then acknowledged that RFE/RL was not to blame. Unfortunately, this exchange was edited out of the final telecast version.

In the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Daily News Bulletin on Tuesday, May 18, two individuals were mentioned as having been alleged by “60 Minutes” to be collaborators who were employed by RFE/RL. One of them, Stanislas Stankevich, was a former occasional free-lance contributor to the Byelorussian service who died in 1980 while under investigation by the Justice Department for wartime persecution of Jews and other residents of Byelorussia.

The other, Vilis Hazners, was also an occasional free-lancer, who contributed to the Latvian program until he became the subject of an investigation by the Justice Department in 1977 for alleged war crimes against Latvian Jews. He was immediately dropped from the free-lance roster.

When the deportation case conducted against him by the Immigration and Naturalization Service was thrown out of court because of insufficient evidence, Hazners resumed his free-lance contributions. This decision by RFE/RL management was based on the immigration judge’s ruling to terminate the proceedings against Hazners.

CITES SENSATIONAL TREATMENT

Although “60 Minutes” is to be commended for turning its spotlight on what may prove to be a scandalous cover-up by various federal departments (the telecast has already stimulated a long overdue investigation in Washington), the sensational treatment of the story may have served to damage RFE/RL’s 30-year reputation as one of America’s most effective instruments in the struggle against the Soviet Union’s persistent violation of human rights of its citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike.

It is worth noting that Soviet and East European media, which desperately attempt to discredit RFE/RL, have made similar charges against literally dozens of our employees for decades. We cannot operate as if any of these charges are true unless proof is presented through due process, since RFE/RL subscribes to the principle of presumption of innocence in American justice.

Dr. Glenn Ferguson, president of RFE/RL, has written a letter to Frank Shakespeare, chairman of the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB) dated April 15, 1982, (after the CBS taping and one month before the telecast), requesting that as the governmental agency exercising oversight responsibilities with respect to the activities of RFE/RL, the BIB use its resources “to obtain definitive information with respect to these charges so that this Corporation can take appropriate action consistent both with its mission and with the rights of an individual under our constitutional system.”

SHOCKED BY THE REVELATION

Finally, a personal footnote: as an American and a Jew who lived through the period of World War II and the Holocaust, I am shocked and distressed by the revelation that hundreds of Nazis were given shelter in the U.S. with governmental approval. An immediate thorough investigation is of the highest priority.

At the same time, as a senior executive of RFE/RL engaged inter alia in preparing special programs for Soviet Jewish audiences which keep alive their Yiddishkeit and their identification with fellow Jews in the free world, I am concerned that a prime time television program by means of innuendo may damage the credibility of RFE/RL and diminish its effectiveness as a champion of liberty on the international scene.

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