BERLIN (JTA) — American self-styled Nazi hunter Mark Gould has filed a lawsuit against ex-SS officer Bernhard Frank for his role in the murder of Jews during World War II.
But some are criticizing Gould, who filed his suit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, for exaggerating the role of a minor figure.
Gould, 43, disguised himself as a neo-Nazi in order to gain access to Frank, an SS lieutenant colonel who had worked closely with Heinrich Himmler. In the summer of 1941, Frank signed documents prepared by Himmler ordering that Jews associated in any way with partisans be killed.
Gould, who reportedly is not Jewish but was adopted by a Jewish stepfather, said his relatives were caught up in the ensuing massacre.
Last week, after interviewing Frank on video for several years in Germany, Gould revealed his identity. Gould and his cousin, Burton Bernstein, filed suit asking for “compensatory, punitive and exemplary damages.” Gould told JTA he chose to work through American judicial system because "I looked at the process with my attorneys in Germany and we concluded that the civil remedy in Germany was limited in options."
According to Martin Dean, one of three historians cited in the suit, Himmler’s orders “document the development of German genocidal policies in response to both real and imagined partisan threats.” Dean is a research scholar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.
Stephen Smith, executive director of the Los Angeles-based USC Shoah Foundation Institute, has commended Gould for highlighting the role of office perpetrators who signed off on murderous orders.
But Frank’s "signature is meaningless," Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JTA. "His job was to see to it that the orders issued were formulated in a manner in accordance with National Socialist ideology. But the order was from Heinrich Himmler."
Frank was unquestionably an "avid, zealous, passionate and committed Nazi," Zuroff said. He added, however, that Frank also had written two books about his past, so Gould has not revealed anything surprising.
Gould defended his mission.
"I discovered that running around Germany and Austria associating with Nazis is really the only way that worked in getting access to the personalities that remained alive after all these years," he told JTA.
Gould went on to say that "those who want to criticize the work should first do their own homework. I guarantee that once they have seen the forensic applications that we have developed and employed to aid us in putting this complicated history into a different light, they will rethink how they conduct investigations."