Unpaid retribution for war crimes committed during World War II was the topic of discussion at Hurlbut Church in the Chautauqua Institution on Tuesday morning.
Following the topic of "Justice after Nuremberg," Eli Rosenbaum, director of human rights enforcement strategy and policy within the human rights and special prosecutions section, criminal division, of the U.S. Department of Justice, gave a moving speech regarding Nazi war criminals who managed to escape justice following the conclusion of World War II.
Rosenbaum began his speech by addressing the futility that occurred with regards to punishing Nazi criminals for their war crimes following World War II.
"Credible estimates of the number of perpetrators of the Holocaust alone, of the systematic mass murder of 6 million Jews, ranges from a minimum of about 100,000 to more than 300,000 and even 600,000," said Rosenbaum. "The actual number is somewhere between that 300,000 and 600,000 range, I believe. We know that less than 10,000 of the estimated 300,000 to 600,000 perpetrators of the Holocaust were prosecuted, which leaves the tragic reality that the vast majority of the men and women who took part in these crimes escaped justice for their actions. How did they get away? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is bound up and has been for decades in a fog of myths, legends, distortions and, sad to say, outright fabrications."
Rosenbaum went on to speak about the myths that people commonly accept regarding how Nazi war criminals escaped punishment and the logic behind those myths. According to Rosenbaum, he believes the following are the ways that most people believe that Nazi criminals escaped justice:
A super-secret state organization of Nazis, code-named ODESSA arranged escape routes for S.S. officers.
The perpetrators assumed false identities enabling them to elude Allied parties who were searching for them.
U.S. intelligence agencies and intelligence services of other nations, the Vatican and other western institutions knowingly helped them escape.
Most of the Nazi criminals managed to find safe haven in South America, where they lived in splendor owed to the protection they received from Latin American dictators in exchange for certain services they provided.
Independent Nazi hunters were able to track down Adolf Eichmann and most of the other senior perpetrators, but European and Latin American countries simply ignored the information they provided.
Rosenbaum explained that while all of these thoughts had small truths attached to them, none of them can explain in whole how the Nazis escaped justice.
"'The ODESSA Files' was a 1972 novel by Frederick Forsyth which became very popular and was made into a movie featuring Jon Voight," said Rosenbaum. "However, (ODESSA) was a myth it was invented. Were there aid groups where former Nazis helped each other escape? Sure. Were there groups of Nazis that banded together? Sure. Was there an organization like ODESSA that existed to help Nazis escape justice and flea from their pursuers in any significant way? No, there was not."
Rosenbaum further explained that, in most instances, legally changing one's name in 1945 was extraordinarily difficult and for the most part, unnecessary. According to Rosenbaum, efforts to find war criminals dropped off around 1948 and afterward Nazis in hiding could simply reemerge with their given names.
In addition to debunking Nazi myths, Rosenbaum also highlighted the lives of a few select Nazi war criminals such as Jakob Reimer and Gunther Tabbert, that despite U.S. attempts to bring them to justice, lived the majority of their lives in freedom.
"On Nov. 9, 1941, Tabbert and (his men) swept into the little town of Daugavpils where he ordered all the Jews into the streets," said Rosenbaum. "He and (his men) then gunned them down with dumbbell bullets, tearing their bodies apart. They went into the homes and killed those who could not make it to the streets, babies included. In total, Tabbert was responsible for the death of 1,134 Jews on that day. ... In 1993, Tabbert, who was free in Germany, decided to come to America as a tourist. Mistakenly, he was allowed into the United States. We tracked him down in New Orleans and questioned him. He admitted his participation in the S.S. but showed us a newspaper clipping that documented his acquittal of the accusations against him in 1970. German courts decided he was only following orders and cleared him of his charges. Tabbert lived the rest of his life as a free man."
Rosenbaum called the freedom of former Nazi war criminals a betrayal of the principals of justice that Allied soldiers fought to ensure and the betrayal of the promise of Nuremberg as conceived by Robert H. Jackson.
Rosenbaum's address marks the second lecture in a series of five held at Hurlbut Church this week in collaboration with the Robert H. Jackson Center.
Subsequent addresses include: "Howard Triest in Conversation with Greg Peterson," "Inside the John Demjanjuk Nazi War Criminal Case," by Eli Rosenbaum and "Chemistry After Farben What Did We Learn?" by Douglas C. Neckers.
All lectures are $22 to attend and begin promptly at 9 a.m.