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Behind the Headlines Portugal Has Until November 7 to Decide Whether to Oust Trifa

On November 7, immigration authorities in Lisbon will have to decide what to do about the notorious cleric, Archbishop Valerian Trifa, who was granted a temporary three-month visa by Portugal, the only country to accept him after he was ordered deported from the United States. Trifa left the U.S. on August 13.

The Portuguese government has stated that Trifa’s application for a visa had been processed and granted routinely, without knowledge of his controversial background as a leader of the facist Iron Guard in Rumania who incited a pogrom against the Jewish community in Bucharest in 1941.

His native Rumania refused to accept him, but rumors were rife in Lisbon that Greece may accept him should Portugal decide to oust him next month, and that he may wind up at the celebrated monastery atop Mt. Athos.

Prime Minister Mario Soares of Portugal has declared that if there is proof that Trifa is indeed a Nazi war criminal he will be expelled forthwith. But up to now, no attempt has been made by the government to contact the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigotions (OSI) in Washington, D.C. to examine the voluminous evidence that has been compiled with regard to Trifa’s war-time activities that had provided for the deportation order.

OSI PUZZELED BY LISBON GOVERNMENT

In an interview with this reporter upon his return to the U.S., Neal Sher, director of the OSI, said he was at a loss to understand why his department had not been approached by the Portuguese government authorities if they were sincely interested in determining Trifa’s past.

Sher said he regards Trifa as having been “our most notorious and visible defendant. “He stated that “the effectuation of Trifa’s deportation was OSI’s highest priority since the order of deportation was entered in October 1982. Trifa was not entitled to enter this country and he was certainly not entitled to enjoy the great right of U.S. citizenship. He left the U.S. in disgrace, his dark past having been exposed to the public.”

Trifa received a visa in 1950 to enter the U.S. as a displaced person and became an American citizen in 1957. Many years later, when his Nazi past and his activities in Rumania were unearthed, court action was undertaken to deport him. In 1980, a U.S. court deprived him of his citizenship and two years later his deportation was ordered.

JEWISH COMMUNITY IS DEEPLY TROUBLED

The Portuguese government’s disclaimer of not knowing about Trifa’s background when it approved his visa has been criticized by Portual’s Jewish community as ingenuous and incorrect. The community is deeply troubled by the presence of a man who has been accused of responsibility in the extermination of thousands of Bucharest Jews.

According to Dr. Joshua Ruah, head of the 300-member Portuguese Jewish community, Trifa’s current stay in the country has triggered new activity on the part of clandestine neo-Nazi organizations which steadfastly support the Archbishop.

Ruah showed this reporter an article that appeared recently in a leading daily in Oporto (Portugal’s second largest city), written by an organization spokesman who claimed that Trifa is being persecuted by the Jews, who had “invented” the Holocaust.

“Trifa,” the story continued, “is the scapegoat of the anti-Nazis,” and in fact is “a good man who at the age of 70 has no peace … no one speaks of the crimes of the Jews against the Lebanese and the Palestinians, or of the crimes of the U.S. in dropping the atom bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.”

Ruah said he had brought the matter to the attention of the World Jewish Congress-Europe at its September meeting in Paris and that Greville Janner its newly-elected president, who is a member of Britain’s Parliament, sent a stiff letter of protest to Soares. An official of the Israel Embassy in Lisbon insisted that Trifa richly merits sentencing as a war criminal, and that at the very least, Portugal must find another country that will receive him if and when he is expelled.

What seems quite apparent, after talks with officials and members of the Jewish community in Lisbon, is that the Portuguese government now devoutly hopes the problem and the Archbishop will fade away once and for all time. Observers, not only in Portugal but in several other lands, are quietly looking forward to November 7 for a satisfactory resolution of a thorny and troubling situation.

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