NEW YORK (Jan. 8)
An agreement between the U.S. government’s Nazi-hunting unit and an unnamed European government could lead to more prosecutions of suspected Nazi-era war criminals living in the United States.
The agreement, scheduled to be announced later this month, could help the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations “identify previously unknown suspects,” said Eli Rosenbaum, OSI’s director.
The agreement comes after OSI recently announced it had initiated a record 10 prosecutions against suspected war criminals living in the United States last year.
“It was a very busy year for us,” Rosenbaum said.
Since it began operating in 1979, OSI has stripped U.S. citizenship from 71 people who assisted in Nazi persecution, and has deported 57. Another 160 have been blocked from entering the United States because of their wartime actions.
The previous record of nine prosecutions in a year was reached in 1981 and 1983.
The record-setting 10th case was typical: The Justice Department asked a U.S. court to revoke the citizenship of Jaroslaw Bilaniuk, 79. The department alleges that Bilaniuk persecuted Jews while serving as an armed guard at a slave labor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
The government maintains that Bilaniuk concealed his Nazi past to gain entry to the United States after World War II.
The record number of prosecutions gives lie to the notion that there aren’t any Nazi-era war criminals left to prosecute, Rosenbaum said.
It’s true that collaborators are slowly dying out, but it will be many years before they all will be dead, he said.
“The constant drumbeats of ‘it’s over, it’s over, it’s over’ really lets the governments with the moral and legal responsibility off the hook,” Rosenbaum said, excluding the United States from his condemnation.
In addition to a lack of political will, other countries have difficulty prosecuting wartime collaborators because they attempt criminal prosecutions, instead of simply stripping them of their citizenship and deporting them, as the United States does.
There are a number of reasons for the record number of prosecutions in the United States, Rosenbaum said. Among them are:
increased cooperation from European governments, particularly in the former Soviet bloc, in providing access to documents — even as these governments refuse to prosecute Nazi war criminals themselves;
enhanced understanding of Nazi operations and killing actions; and
technological advances that allow easier identification of suspects.
As evidence of the latter, Rosenbaum pointed to the case of Michael Gorshkow, who is accused of participating in the killing of Jews in 1942 and 1943.
While doing research overseas, one of OSI’s investigators came upon advance orders ordering a 1943 massacre of Jews in what is today Slutsk, Belarus. A document listed the names of the men assigned to participate in the murders of 3,000 Jews.
OSI checked the names against U.S. immigration records from the period after the war, finding several Gorshkows. After further investigation, the OSI centered its case on a man living in Panama City, Fla.
The U.S. government initiated a case to have Gorshkow’s citizenship revoked on the grounds that he concealed his wartime past.
In July 2002, Gorshkow’s citizenship was revoked. Gorshkow himself has fled the United States.