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Germany's postwar history and the US-Germany Treaty on compensation for Holocaust victims.

As reported in The New York Times (November 19, 2003) and elsewhere, the US Government recently decided to oppose a lawsuit filed by a Holocaust survivor, Simon Rozenkier, against two German pharmaceutical companies for medical experiments performed upon him while a prisoner in Auschwitz and other camps. The US is acting in response to an agreement, signed with Germany in 2000, under which Germany created a very large fund to compensate victims of Nazi slave labor and medical experiments. According to the interpretations of both countries, the agreement requires the US to take actions such as urging its courts to dismiss lawsuits like Rozenkier's whenever there is any legal justification for doing so. Such an action apparently supports the main goal of the agreement which is, in the words of one of the signatories, the establishment of "a quick mechanism for settling claims against Germany in a way that would avoid individualized hearings."

As it works to suppress Mr. Rozenkier's suit, the US might consider two particularly relevant parts of postwar Germany's reaction to its past--payments of huge sums of pension money to former Nazis, including some of the worst criminals of the Third Reich, and the absurd legal process Germany applied to the thousands of war criminals living within its borders, leaving the great majority of them free to enjoy the full protections and benefits of German citizenship. While the US government signed the accord after the general details of this shocking record were available to those who aggressively looked for them, this postwar development is completely unappreciated, and Germany has done its best to keep it that way. But the US has even more reason to hesitate before it recommends dismissal because the individuals who personally tormented Mr. Rozenkier are among those who took especially good advantage of the postwar German attitude toward ex-Nazis.

Chief among the benefactors was SS General Horst Schumann, the high-ranking doctor who sterilized Rozenkier and who was one of the most active and ghoulish experimenters in the Auschwitz camp. He had also performed experiments on German invalids before the war, so he fled to Africa in 1958 when that background was publicized. In 1966, he was extradited back home and put on trial in Hamburg. Several Auschwitz survivors came forward, numbers branded on their arms and their genitals missing or damaged. But the court denied redress. It set Schumann free before his accusers could confront him. He was freed for "health reasons," but Schumann died a full 12 years later, never having spent a day in jail for his crimes. In the guise of aggressive Nazi hunting, Germany had given sanctuary and comfort to a fugitive who treated humans worse than laboratory animals. (1)

Few know about Schumann because of the popular misconception that all Nazi criminals were tried at Nuremberg or fled to South America. But there were thousands who enjoyed similar treatment. (2) Wilhelm Koppe, for example, played a major role in designing and organizing the unbelievably horrifying killing process at the Chelmno extermination camp, a process described in detail by eye witnesses in Claude Lanzman's Holocaust movie, Shoah. But Koppe's trial was dismissed in 1965, as if it was a joke, and he finally passed away in 1975, having enjoyed the prosperous German postwar democracy for a full 30 years. (3)

When Allied troops were within one day of Paris, SS Captain Heinrich Illers, chief of the city's Gestapo, managed to tear a train away from the war effort and use it to dispatch a thousand Jews to Auschwitz. Illers became a high government official of Lower Saxony in postwar Germany, a post he held as late as 1972. He was never even brought to trial, the hundreds of children on his last transport notwithstanding. (4) Another example is SS Colonel Dr. Walter Blume, who commanded a killing squad in Lithuania before his transfer to Athens where he arranged for the deportation of Greek Jews to Auschwitz. He ran a business in the Ruhr, after the war, before he died in 1971. Germany never put Blume on trial, but it did allow him to adopt two children. (5) SS Captain Robert Mulka was second in command at Auschwitz, working at the core of the gassing process. He was sentenced to 14 years at hard labor but was quietly released after a year. (6)

The shocking extent to which Nazi war criminals found comfortable refuge in Germany is not something one can learn by accident. The US Holocaust Museum, for example, devotes only a few short and relatively innocent paragraphs to the experience of Nazis in postwar Germany among its displays and exhibits, despite the wonderful job that institution does to preserve the history of the Holocaust and make it available to the public. Even a search of the Internet will not provide much detail. (7)

The main repository of the data, of course, is Germany's justice department, but they will only answer specific questions on the convictions handed down by its courts. They will rarely give an indication of time actually spent in prison, or whether the convict went to prison at all. (8) This behavior is related to the very strict German privacy laws called Datenschutz, which apply to the federal archives. As described in an article on Nazi documentation that appeared in The New Yorker in 1975, Datenschutz has been used "to prevent the publication of the last names of Jewish victims deported from Dusseldorf; to block the access of survivors to records of Nazi persecution of Gypsies; to curtail information about the Third Reich's official policy toward alcoholics; and to prevent publication of the last names of Nazis involved in various crimes." The article describes several other outlandish perversions of justice by misapplication of Datenschutz. (9)

Despite the lack of postwar data available and the limited number of case histories this space can accommodate, it is a simple matter to prove that Schumann, Koppe, Illers, Blume, and Mulka represent the rule and not the exception. All the proof one might require is provided by the experience of a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bruno Streckenbach, former General of the SS.

Streckenbach's story begins when Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and decided to ease the effort of occupation by exterminating the political, intellectual, and religious leadership of the newly conquered country. Because of his reputation for brutality, Streckenbach was called upon to lead a campaign called "Action AB," in which approximately 3,000 of these individuals were rounded up and shot. The Nazis hoped this campaign would dramatically reduce the effectiveness of any potential resistance.

Two years later, five million Jews lived ahead of the Wehrmacht's advance as Germany began its move to the east, and the Nazi leadership decided to kill them all. Because of his success in Poland, Streckenbach was put in charge of choosing and organizing the 3000 men to do the job. He apparently addressed the following questions as he formed the killing squads that came to be known as the infamous Einsatzgruppen: What would it take to murder all these Jews? What arms would the men carry? How would the Wehrmacht cooperate? Who would ensure their supplies? What would be the chain of command?

In May 1941, Streckenbach personally delivered a speech to the group leaders just before they set out on their mission. It was the beginning of the Nazi mass murder program that continued for another four years.

The grand plans of the Einsatzgruppen were somewhat frustrated when the Wehrmacht was turned back by the extraordinary effort and sacrifice of the Russian army. In the end, however, Streckenbach's charges committed a monstrous crime--they killed over one million Jews as well as a comparable number of other people.

As the war ended, Streckenbach fell into Russian hands and was given a 25-year sentence. But West Germany ransomed him back in 1955, and Streckenbach walked the rebuilt streets of the new German democracy as if he had not hurt a fly. He finally died in 1977, collecting his pension all the while. He never spent a day in a German jail for his crimes. He never, perhaps, even suffered a look of disapproval in Germany. (10)

Streckenbach (and Schumann and Koppe and Illers and Blume and Mulka) received a pension because virtually all Nazi war criminals receive pensions, as finally revealed by the German investigative TV program "Panorama," in January 1997. The pensioners included the sons of Heinrich Himmler, according to "Panorama," and the wife of Reinhard Heydrich, the third-ranking Nazi of all time. It even includes those few who were convicted by West Germany, no matter how grave their crimes. The amount paid to these people far exceeds anything paid to Holocaust survivors. (11)

Shortly after the "Panorama" piece, the German government acknowledged for the first time that SS veterans were on the pension roles. The announcement was made by a spokesman for Helmut Kohl's office, who provided the seductive explanation that Germany had "come to believe in its early years that the question of responsibility for war crimes should be kept separate from welfare questions." (12) Deserters from Hitler's army, however, are denied all forms of pension, (13) demonstrating that this separation is selective and reflecting how postwar Germany ranks the wartime "crimes" of the deserters vis-a-vis the crimes of some of the others.

Even if Germany had managed to separate welfare and justice, it could not argue that its pension program derived from a fundamental responsibility it feels towards all German government workers. It cannot make that argument, because it awards its pensions just as the Third Reich would have awarded them. In other words, payments increase in proportion to rank in the SS, Wehrmacht, or civil service. (14) SS generals get the most. Allowed by the Western powers to compensate victims and government workers as it sees fit, postwar Germany even finds it correct to pay the foreign volunteers that signed up for the SS, i.e., the outside contractors hired to help out in the mass murder activities. Thousands of these individuals are paid (paid!) yet today.

Despite the "Panorama" documentary, media coverage of the Nazi pensions never became a news story of any substantial measure. It stayed underground partly because Germany doesn't provide information about pensions. That large pensions were (and are) paid to war criminals, as a result, is a fact known to only a few.

Among them is Ingo Mueller, a German lawyer and author of the book Hitler's Justice, which was reviewed favorably in The New York Times Book Review in 1991. (15) According to Mueller, the pension policy was deliberately changed after the war, specifically to accommodate ex-Nazis. Describing the effect of the new law passed in 1957 that allowed individuals to transfer pension money to a new fund that was immune from penalties related to war crimes, Mueller writes: "The Federal Administrative Court established a principle of 'value-free social insurance' guaranteeing the right to a pension transfer even in cases where an official had been found guilty of the worst crimes against humanity or the rule of law." (16)

Those who dismiss these pensions and the pending complaint as tired issues of the past might also consider the case of the second and more infamous of Mr. Rozenkier's tormenters--Josef Mengele. Mengele's wife was alive and living in northern Italy as late as 1991, and would be 81 if alive today, (17) Will the US really oppose this complaint before it learns whether Germany pays pension money, today, for time and effort devoted to the torture of the plaintiff?

Notes:

(1.) Schumann's wartime and postwar experience is described in Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors, New York: Basic Books, 1986 and Ernst Klee, Was sie taten-Was sie wurden, Artz, Juristen und andere Beteiligte am Kranken odea-Juedmord, Ausg.-Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1986, p. 98-107. The appearance at trial of a victim with a testicle removed is described in Lifton on p. 363. Lifton also describes the 1964 libel trial involving one of Schumann's chief assistants, Wadislaw Dering. Dering brought suit in London against Leon Uris for statements made in Uris's famous book, Exodus. Several of Dering's female victims testified, and it is likely that they were also available for the criminal trial of Schumann, which began several years later. (Dering could not prove that Uris made anything more than a minor technical error, so he was awarded only one cent in damages. Uris wrote up a fictionalized version of this trial in his book, QB7.)

(2.) Ingo Mueller, Hitler's Justice, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, originally published in German in 1987 by Kinkler Verlag GMbH, Munich, p. 248.

(3.) Hanna Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, New York: Penguin, 1977, first published in New York by Viking, 1963, p. 15; and Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, Holmes & Meier, 1985, pp. 894, 1099, among other pages. The suspension of Koppe's trial in 1966 is reported in Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution: The Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945, South Brunswick: T. Yoseloff, 1968. Koppe's death in 1975 is widely reported on the Internet.

(4.) Beate Klarsfeld, Wherever they May Be! New York: Vanguard Press, 1975; originally published in 1972 in French by JC Lutes, Paris, pp. 278-279. The number of children on Illers's last transport is given on p. 206.

(5.) A complete review of Blume's wartime activities can be found in Mark Mazower, Inside Hitler's Greece, New London: Yale University Press, 1993. The reference to Blume's adopted children appears on p. 374.

(6.) Mueller, Hitler's Justice, p. 259.

(7.) Hilberg, Destruction, includes a sizeable list of Holocaust criminals and their postwar experiences, but most on the list were those who spent their postwar years outside Germany, and many of the entries are dated and/or incomplete. Some are incorrect. John P. Teschke, Hitler's Legacy, West Germany Confronts the Aftermath of the Third Reich, New York: Peter Lang, 1999, is devoted to the topic of Nazis in postwar Germany. The book was funded by Volkswagen, however, and strangely omits even the mention of Streckenbach, as well as the mention of Koppe, Illers, and Blume. Schumann's 1958 flight is mentioned, but not his extradition, trial, exoneration, or even a description of the crimes he committed.

(8.) The author has made numerous inquiries of the departments of German Justice for information on time spent by Nazis in prison but has been provided with information only once. (The information concerned the early death, in prison, of a junior Nazi officer. The author could not corroborate this piece of information.) One well-known compilation, "German Trials Concerning National Socialist Homicidal Crimes," compiled at the Institute of Criminal Law of the University of Amsterdam by Professor Dr. C.F. Ruter and Dr. D.W. de Mildt, is available on the Internet and lists the names of the accused and the verdicts in virtually all the trials conducted in Germany and West Germany since the end of the war. The actual disposition of the accused, i.e., whether their sentences were suspended, shortened, etc., is not included, although this leaves the data base, arguably, seriously incomplete.

(9.) Gerald Posner, "Letter from Berlin," The New Yorker, March 14, 1995. Among the other examples cited in the article is the special law Germany passed in 1992 relaxing many of the standard privacy restrictions for all victims of monitoring by the Stasi, the East German internal spy network. As of 1995, the government had refused to consider a similar law relaxing battlers to Nazi documents.

Another breathtaking perversion of justice created by the misapplication of German privacy rules involved the 1966 trial of the Gestapo personnel who liquidated the ghetto of Grodno, in Eastern Poland. The author's first cousin, Boris Shulkes, testified at this trial, which is described in Felix Zandman, Never the Last Journey, New York: Schocken Books, 1995. (Zandman survived the ghetto, and immigrated to the US where he founded Vishay Intertechnology Inc, a company he still heads,) Zandman writes, "In a sense the trials were a travesty ... almost thirty thousand Jewish people of Grodno had been annihilated by the Nazis, yet the court was uninterested in the enormity. The judges wanted specific, detailed facts of bullets shot and bodies identified, exactly as if the two [defendants] had been common, garden-variety murderers. Yet in another sense, the proceedings were exactly right. In the end, the careful judicial approach to evidence meant one thing: Here was proof of what had happened ... The court records constituted, I thought, the most powerful witnessing there could be ... we had the Nazis' own testimony, the testimony of other German soldiers, of German wives who lived in Grodno, of Poles, of Jews who saw things from different angles. Put all this together with cross-examination, and it became the most precise depiction possible of what had happened there. And in the end, this was all that remained of the Jewish community that had flourished in Grodno since the fourteenth century. Only this collection of papers."

Except that the German courts would not release the transcripts. The courts refused Zandman's request for a copy, even though the trial could not have been held but for his testimony and that of Boris and twelve of the other Grodno survivors. The court refused to provide copies became, they explained, they were concerned that the plaintiffs might attack the defendants if they found out where they lived. (Many defendants received no sentences, and others received short ones.) In the end, Zandman enlisted the help of Bente and Serge Klarsfeld, renowned Nazi hunters, and they managed, several years after the trial, to embarrass the court into taking the obvious step of deleting the addresses to alleviate its concerns. The transcripts were subsequently released and bound into three large yellow-colored volumes. Copies of them can be found, among other places, in the library at the US Holocaust Museum. They are a rare set of volumes--the same type of pressure exerted by the Klarsfelds has succeeded in prying out very few, if any, of the many transcripts that describe the destruction of other Jewish communities.

(10.) The story of Streckenbach is told in Hilberg, Destruction; Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death, New York: Knopf, 2002; Mueller, Hitler's Justice, and "The Trial of Major German War Criminals Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany," published under the authority of H.M. Attorney-General by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1946. Streckenbach's speech to the Einsatzgruppen is described in Hilberg's Destruction, on p. 290, and in Rhodes, Masters, on pp. 11, 16. He is given credit for planning the Einsatzgruppen operations in Mueller, Hitler's Legacy, on p. 259. (Rhodes and Hilberg credit Streckenbach with choosing the leaders of the killing squads but do not indicate who planned the operations.) Streckenbach's leading role in Operation AB is described in "The Trial of Major...," two hundred and fifteenth day: Friday, August 30, 1946 (part 11 of 15).

(11.) The Center for Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, "Reparations to Holocaust Survivors Versus Reparations to Nazi War Criminals." Highlights from this publication appear in a special report in the magazine Justice, The International Association of Jewish Lawyers, no. 14, September, 1997. The statistics appear on p. 21.

(12.) The New York Times, May 10, 1997.

(13.) The Washington Post, November 27, 1994.

(14.) Justice, September, 1997, p. 21.

(15.) The New York Times, April 28, 1991

(16.) Mueller, Hitler's Justice, p. 262.

(17.) Lucette Lagarado and Sheila Cohn Dekel, Children of the Flames, New York: William Morrow 1991, p. 241.

DAVID D. GOODMAN is a communications engineer/entrepreneur who took an interest in the topic of postwar justice nearly 10 years ago when he came across a few case histories of extremely implicated Nazis enjoying their long tenures in postwar West Germany. He began to research that topic when not working on his communication business, pursuing all information relating to the postwar experience of specific Nazi criminals living in Germany and the policies of the German justice system in its response to their crimes. Mr. Goodman, who lives in Washing-ton, DC, graduated from MIT with an MS in 1977 and holds 9 patents, one of which was used by a licensee, CAIS Inc., to build the first high-speed Internet system for hotels and apartment buildings.
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