WASHINGTON (Sep. 22)
President Clinton’s nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff told members of Congress this week that he “never had the slightest hint” that his father served in a Nazi-commanded unit during World War II.
Gen. John Shalikashvili said at his confirmation hearings Wednesday that he was “deeply saddened that my father had this tragic association.”
After Clinton nominated the European-born career military man last month to the high-ranking Pentagon post, reports surfaced that Shalikashvili’s father, a native of European Georgia, had collaborated with the Nazis during the war and had served in an ethnic Georgian battalion organized by the Nazis.
The battalion ended up under the command of the Waffen SS, Adolf Hitler’s elite, armed guard.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles first discovered the information about Dmitri Shalikashvili, the general’s father, who is now dead.
Jewish leaders contacted last month after the news broke said the revelations about the elder Shalikashvili should not bar the younger Shalikashvili from the Joint Chiefs position.
In his opening remarks before the Senate Armed Services committee Wednesday, Shalikashvili referred to the controversy over his father.
“Allow me to comment briefly on the recent, deeply disturbing reports that my father had been a member of the dreaded Waffen SS and that I, perhaps, withheld this information.
“I did not withhold this information, for I never had the slightest hint that my father was associated with the Waffen SS,” the general said.
Shalikashvili said that while his father’s official German record shows “uninterrupted service in the Georgian Legion under the German army, or Wehrmacht,” in the last months of the war, he apparently was “associated with some Georgian unit that was under the control of the Waffen SS.
“I’m deeply saddened that my father had this tragic association,” the general said. “To me, and I believe to all those who knew him, that is so absolutely out of character. To me, he was a kind and gentle man, and I loved him very much.
“He was a man who, perhaps, loved his native Georgia too much — certainly a man caught up in the awful tragedy of World War II,” the general said.
WINS PRAISE FROM SENATORS
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, called Shalikashvili’s remarks Wednesday “an eloquent statement, especially the general’s candid repulsion with the fact that his father was associated with the Waffen SS.”
“He should not be judged by the misdeeds of his father,” Hier added.
Members of the Armed Services Committee, which is expected to vote to confirm Shalikashvili, responded supportively to his words.
“I very much appreciate and admire the statement that you made this morning about the revelations concerning your father’s association during the Second World War,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who is Jewish.
“The point here is not to react to anything your father may have done before your family came to the United States, but really to react to what you have done as a citizen of the United States since your family came here,” he added.
“And on that scale, it is quite clear that you have been a great citizen, a great soldier, and a great patriot,” he added.
Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) said he was “deeply touched by your continuing and everlasting reverence for a father who allegedly made a mistake, but the son still stands by with affection for his father.”
The Wiesenthal Center researched the elder Shalikashvili’s past in response to a request from the publication Defense Daily, which first reported the revelations in August, after Clinton announced the nomination.
Once the revelations broke, some in the Jewish community expressed concern that Clinton had romanticized the Shalikashvili family’s past when he announced the nomination Aug. 11.
At the time, the president spoke of how, at the age of 16, Shalikashvili moved to the United States with his family and subsequently climbed his way to the top of the American military hierarchy.
He also recounted how, when the general was 8 years old, his family had “fled in a cattle car westward to Germany in front of the Soviet advance.”
But Jewish officials noted that only victims of Nazism, not those tied to the Nazis, fled in cattle cars.