WASHINGTON (Aug. 30)
Jewish organizational officials say that President Clinton’s nomination of Gen. John Shalikashvili to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff should not be affected by revelations that his father served in a Nazi unit in World War II.
The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center found information documenting that the general’s father, Dmitri Shalikashvili, collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and earned the rank of major in a Waffen SS unit.
But Jewish officials from groups dealing with Nazi-related issues said this week that they felt the activities of the father would not — and should not — affect the fate of the son.
The Wiesenthal Center researched the elder Shalikashvili’s past after being requested to do so by the publication Defense Daily, which first reported the revelations last week.
Dmitri Shalikashvili, now dead, was a native of European Georgia who immigrated to Poland and later served in an ethnic Georgian battalion organized by the Nazis that ended up under the command of the Waffen SS.
Jewish groups did not plan to take any action one way or the other regarding the nomination.
Shalikashvili’s nomination “should not be judged on the basis of what his father did,” the Wiesenthal Center said in a statement released Friday.
John Shalikashvili “served the country in a patriotic way,” said Jess Hordes, the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington representative.
He “shouldn’t suffer” from his father’s actions, Hordes added.
And World Jewish Congress Executive Director Elan Steinberg said that his group felt that the father’s actions “should not reflect on the son as such.”
Steinberg added, though, that the information about the father was important, and commended the Wiesenthal Center for releasing it.
One representative from a Jewish group dealing with Nazi-related issues, however, said that if information about Shalikashvili’s father had gotten into Soviet hands during the Cold War, the general could have been placed in a compromising position.
AVOIDED MENTION OF FAMILY’S ORIGINS
This is just one of a series of controversies that has swirled around Clinton administration nominees this year. The administration has been faulted for failing to investigate thoroughly the backgrounds of several nominees.
In several instances, including the choices of Judge Kimba Wood for Attorney General and Lani Guinier to head the Justice Department’s civil rights bureau, the administration dropped the nominations when there were signs of trouble.
But there was no indication after the revelations about Shalikashvili were made public that the administration was going to withdraw the nomination.
A senior Defense Department official indicated to The New York Times that in this case White House officials were made aware of the elder Shalikashvili’s service in the German army. It was not clear if President Clinton was told.
Neither the Pentagon nor the president was aware of Shalikashvili’s ties to the SS, however, until they were made public last week.
The Pentagon official told the Times that President Clinton’s description on Aug. 11 of his nominee’s family origins had been carefully worded to avoid any mention of the father’s service in the German army.
On that day, Clinton nominated the Polishborn John Shalikashvili to replace Gen. Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
At the time, Clinton painted the Shalikashvili family’s flight from Europe to the United States in poignant tones, stressing the success story of an immigrant who reached the top of the U.S. military.
“In 1944, when he was 8 years old, his family fled in a cattle car westward to Germany in front of the Soviet advance,” Clinton said in a Rose Garden ceremony.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said Monday that Clinton’s description of the family fleeing in a “cattle car” was inappropriate. “Perpetrators never went in cattle cars. They went first class,” Hier said.
The Wiesenthal Center, while stating that it was not criticizing the younger Shalikashvili, raised questions about how the elder Shalikashvili and his family was allowed into the United States after World War II.
It is an issue “worthy of full disclosure,” Hier added.
The Pentagon was standing by the nominee once the news about his father was made public.
“Gen. John M. Shalikashvili’s superb record of achievement in the United States Army speaks for itself,” Secretary of Defense Les Aspin said in a statement Friday.
“Allegations about his father are not relevant to Gen. Shalikashvili’s nomination to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Aspin said.