Membership in a Nazi organization responsible for the deaths of millions in Europe during World War II was not in itself “sufficient grounds” to exclude an individual from entering the United States and becoming an American citizen, the State Department said last Friday.
Putting the responsibility on “an apparent determination at that time” — in the 1950s — by the U.S. Attorney General, the Department said that even membership in the notorious Waffen SS, declared a criminal organization by the Nuremberg trials of 1946, ” was not at the time considered sufficient grounds in itself for exclusion.”
At the Department of Justice, an astounded official involved in anti-Nazi proceeding, who asked not to be identified, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: “I didn’t think people like that were admitted. I don’t know why the State Department did. They knew the facts. “
RESPONDING TO QUESTIONS
The State Department was responding to the JTA which had asked the Department why it granted a visa to Tscherim Soobzokov, now residing in Paterson, N.J., although he had admitted in 1950 when he was asking to enter the U.S. that he had been a member of the Waffen SS, a member of the police force in his native town of Tachtamukai, in the Caucasus region of the Soviet Union, and finally, that he had been a member of the North Caucasian Legion, a military unit affiliated with the German forces.
The JTA asked the Justice Department how it was possible for it not to have known about the circumstances over the past 28 years and whether other suspected Nazis were in the U.S. under some protective cover from effective prosecution. The JTA was referred to the immigration and Naturalization Service which in turn referred the JTA back to the Justice Department. At the State Department the JTA was provided with statements about Soobzokov, who was also known as Abdel Karim Showabzoqo. There has been no response yet about cases other than Soobzokov’s.
Soobzokov, who was granted citizenship on April 17, 1961, is presently chief of the Purchasing Department for Passaic County, N.J. On Dec. 5, 1979, the U.S. Attorney General’s office and the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigation (OSI) served him with a denaturalization notice. The notice accused him of concealing his collaboration with the Waffen SS and his participation in Nazi atrocities in and around Kransnador in the Transcaucasus.
The Justice Department last week dropped its case against Soobzokov after the Central Intelligence Agency revealed he had told it in Amman, Jordan, where he was then residing, of his affiliations with the three organizations and that he had also told the Consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Ammon of his Nazi affiliations and had signed a form to that effect in 1952 as part of his application for an immigrant visa.
When these facts came to the attention of Allan Ryan Jr., director of the OSI, he dropped the case. Since the U.S. had charged that Soobzokov had concealed his connection when he applied for naturalization in 1960, Ryan said, the fact was “he did disclose his affiliations with these organizations in the course of applying to enter the United States.” Therefore, Ryan said, “the law and the evidence leave me no choice” but to drop the case.
DETERMINING VISA APPLICATIONS
With regard to the practice in 1953 for adjudicating visa applications for former Nazi Party members, a State Department spokesman replied: “On the basis of an apparent determination at that time by the Attorney General, membership in the Nazi Party was not an automatic ground for a visa refusal. Each application had to be considered on an individual basis.”
To the question whether the Waffen SS was not declared a criminal organization by the Nuremberg trials, the Department spokesman said: “That is correct. However, while membership in any Nazi organization certainly had a damaging effect on an individual’s application, I repeat that it was not at the time considered sufficient grounds in itself for exclusion.”
DISAPPOINTMENT AND DISMAY
Meanwhile, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC) termed the Justice Department’s decision to drop its case against Soobzokov “a matter of deep disappointment.” Jacqueline Levine, chairperson of NJCRAC’s Committee on Unprosecuted Nazis, stated that the Justice Department’s decision “is a reminder once again of the moral failure of our government to screen out potential immigrants who were involved in one way or another with the most monstrous crimes in history.”
In the case of Soobzokov, Levine said “we are particularly concerned with the breakdown in communications between the deviant agencies of the United States government and especially the failure of the CIA to make available the information that they had at a much earlier date.” She added that NJCRAC is “pleased to note that according” to a statement by Ryan “a new action will be filed if sufficient evidence exists to prove that Soobzokov had taken part in the persecution of any person because of race, religion or political belief. Under the law, such a finding would make Mr. Soobzokov subject to denaturalization.”
At the same time, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith charged that U.S. government agencies had permitted a confessed former member of Hitler’s SS death squad to enter the U.S. apparently without investigating whether he participated in Nazi atrocities.
Seymour Reich, chairman of ADL’s Civil Rights Committee, said the ADL was dismayed by the government’s “negligence or insensitivity” which had permitted Soobzokov to enter the country despite his admission. Declaring that “a proper investigation” should have been made at that time, the ADL called on the U.S. government to “vigorously investigate” Soobzokov’s Nazi activities, and if it is found that he was a war criminal to take new steps to denaturalize him.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.