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The Nazi Threat in the United States

Imported or Homegrown?

Henry Heller teaches history at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of The Cold War and the New Imperialism: A Global History, 1945-2005 (Monthly Review Press, 2005) and The Birth of Capitalism: A Twenty-First Century Perspective (Pluto Press, 2011).
Eric Lichtblau, The Nazis Next Door: How America Became A Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2014), 256 pages, $28.00, hardcover.

On November 22, 2014, the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee passed a Russian-backed resolution condemning attempts to glorify Nazi ideology and deny German Nazi war crimes. The vote was 115 votes for the resolution, with Ukraine, Canada, and the United States voting against. The negative vote of Ukraine is easy to explain as the government there rests in large part on the support of openly fascist elements who look back on the Nazi period as a golden age. The Canadian position is based mainly on the large number of Canadian voters whose origins lie in the Western Ukraine. The U.S. vote of course is based on its backing for the Ukrainian government, which it sees as the instrument in its offensive against Putin’s Russia. In what amounts to a rerun of the Cold War, Putin is considered an archenemy because he resists U.S. imperialism’s drive to the East. As a consequence the Obama administration wholeheartedly backs the more-or-less fascist Ukrainian regime.

Fascism has come full circle, returning to a region that saw the death of 26 million Soviet citizens, including many in Ukraine. The main sponsor of this regime this time is not Nazi Germany but Washington, while Merkel’s Germany only plays second fiddle. Support of the Kiev government must be seen in the light of coincident U.S. military adventures in the Middle East and Africa. Resort to imperialist wars abroad also reflects growing social polarization at home, the hollowing out of U.S. liberal democracy as a result of the power of money, the gigantic expansion of the security and surveillance state, the spread of armed vigilantism, the intensification of racism, and the militarization of the U.S. police. Support for fascists in the Ukraine and the intensification of imperialism must also be placed in the context of historical U.S. backing for fascist governments in Greece and Iran and military juntas in South Korea, South Vietnam, Indonesia, as well as South and Central America. What we are likely witnessing is a situation in which it is no longer possible for the capitalist class in crisis to rule the people of the United States in the old way. A process is underway that involves the withering away of liberal democracy and the arrival of a not-so-friendly fascist order meant to bolster capitalism through a resort to authoritarian discipline. How far this process goes depends on political events and the effects of the ongoing economic crisis on public consciousness.

In the midst of these horrendous developments comes the publication of a new work by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eric Lichtblau on Nazis in the United States. A reporter for the New York Times, Lichtblau demonstrates how for many years the United States served as a haven for Nazis as a result of the protection extended to them by important state institutions and influential members of the political elite. He considers this a stain on U.S. liberal democracy. Undoubtedly this cover up was a stain, but how the history of these scandals might be related to the current crisis of democracy is ignored by Lichtblau, who writes with the presumption that U.S. liberal democracy is thriving. As a result the author only helps to mystify the past while obscuring the seriousness of the current crisis.

While there were always those in politics, the media, and the public at large who opposed bringing Nazis to the United States and protecting them, together the CIA, U.S. Army, FBI, IRS, and senior political figures played major roles in facilitating their entry. This policy began with the onset of the Cold War against the Soviet Union when hundreds if not thousands of Nazi scientists, technicians, and intelligence agents were secretly and illegally brought to the United States in order to develop the U.S. rocket program and to establish espionage networks to combat the Soviet threat. The Nazi past of these emigrants was whitewashed or suppressed in the name of realpolitik.

Lichtblau demonstrates that it was Allen Davis, a key operative of the Office of Strategic Services and then head of the CIA, who played a central role in these operations of recruitment and cover up. But J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, also had a major part in protecting these German and East European Nazis in the United States. Lichtblau organizes his book as a series of vignettes of Nazis or Nazi collaborators who were living in the United States and were later exposed by the media or prosecuted by the justice system. Along the way we meet Hermine Brausteiner who became notorious for her sadistic treatment of prisoners as a guard in the Majdanek Concentration Camp, where some 1.5 million Jews and others met their deaths. A reporter found her in Maspeth, Long Island—a blue collar, heavily immigrant neighborhood—living as a housewife after taking the name of her U.S. husband. There was Hubertus Strughold, who worked for many years as the chief scientist of NASA’s aerospace medical division and was lauded by the press as the father of U.S. space medicine. He was exposed as having been deeply involved in the infamous Dachau medical experiments on human subjects. Then there was Otto von Bolschwing, a businessman in New York, who turned out to have been an SS lieutenant in the Nazi government’s Jewish Affairs Office. As an assistant to Adolph Eichmann he developed a systematic program for ridding Germany of its Jews, and later he helped organize the persecution of Jews in fascist Romania. The CIA used him as a spy in postwar Austria and whitewashed him when he arrived in the United States.

But the case of the Circassian Tom Soobzokov most preoccupies Lichtblau, who follows Soobzokov’s trajectory from his recruitment by the Nazis as a security chief for the Krasnodar region of southern Russian in 1942–1943, until his assassination by Jewish militants at his home in Paterson, New Jersey in 1985. In the course of his service with the SS he rounded up thousands of Jews and communists in the Caucusus and the rest of the Soviet Union. Employed by the CIA after the war, Soobzokov served as a recruiter of exile Circassians in the Middle East who were run as spies from Turkey into the Soviet Union. Later on, while living in the United States, Soobzokov helped the FBI by informing against those in the Circassian community suspected of sympathy for the Soviet Union. Lichtblau shows how the CIA, FBI, and IRS all did as much as they could to protect Soobzokov over many years. Remarkable is the fact that Chuck Allen, a left-wing journalist who was the outstanding investigator of Nazis in the United States during the 1960s and ’70s, was regarded as a subversive by the FBI because of his zeal in exposing Soobzokov and other Nazis.

Only during the 1970s—as a result of the debacle of Vietnam, the Watergate Scandal, Jimmy Carter’s human rights strategy against the Soviet Union, and the rise of Jewish influence in U.S. life—did the U.S. state take the issue of Nazis in the United States seriously. Congressional hearings were held and in 1979 a special Office of Special Investigations was created within the Justice Department to pursue the issue. Prosecutions and expulsions from the United States followed, but these were hampered following the election of Ronald Reagan and his extraordinary visit to a German war cemetery where fifty members of the Waffen SS were buried. Pat Buchanan also intervened; both during his tenure in the Reagan White House and afterward, Buchanan mounted an ongoing campaign against further prosecutions of Nazis, portraying them as good anti-communists. With the passage of time the issue tended to die out, except for the extraordinary attention given to the case of John Demjanuk, who was accused of being the notorious sadist Ivan the Terrible of the Treblinka death camp. Extradicted to Israel, Demjanuk turned out to be a minor war criminal and was released after it was determined that his was an embarrassing case of mistaken identity.

Playing off the U.S. movie image of the Nazi as a total monster, Lichtblau fails to illuminate the deep appeal of fascism in Germany and its ongoing attractiveness to elements of the U.S. population. He is oblivious to or does not comprehend the fact, that under Hitler, 10 percent of the German population were members of the Nazi Party and that a virtual majority belonged to Nazi-controlled organizations. He harps on the defiling presence of some of these Nazis in liberal America, while ignoring the deliberate U.S. decision to abandon the denazification of a Western Germany faced with the need to reconstruct German capitalism as a bulwark against the Soviet threat. Since the upper levels of German society were Nazified, who could the Americans recruit to their space or espionage programs except Nazis? Meanwhile Lichtblau misrepresents Soviet policy, claiming that they just shot Nazis. This is true of only the most criminal while for the rest, in contrast to the United States, the Soviets proceeded to denazify as far as possible by dispossessing the Junker military aristocracy and nationalizing industrial monopolies where they could.

The author neglects to take ideology seriously as a motive for becoming a Nazi or sympathizing with them. Nazism in Germany was rooted in hostility to the Soviet Union and fear of the renewal of the abortive November 1918 Communist revolution in Germany. National and racial patriotism was offered as a counterweight to the ideal of social and political equality. Moreover, in Nazi thinking anti-communism and anti-Semitism went hand in hand. Although never reaching the same degree of virulence, the same is true of anti-communist and anti-Semitic feeling in the United States. From the time of the Russian Revolution and the upsurge of post-First World War labor strife in the United States, anti-communism became an idée fixe of the U.S. middle class and especially of its elite. Hostility to the Soviet Union and fear of the working class play a large part in explaining the pro-Nazi attitudes of people like Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, J. Edgar Hoover, Allen and John Foster Dulles, Averell Harriman, Prescott Bush, Joseph Kennedy, and the very diplomatic George Kennan. During the 1930s such feelings were widespread among leading business people who joined or supported the American Liberty League and the America First Committee. Sympathy for Nazi Germany was muted during the war. But once Roosevelt died Hoover, the Dulles brothers, Forrestal, Harriman, and Kennan came to the fore and the Cold War against the Soviet Union began. In this context excuses could be found for fascist sympathies. Hostility to the Soviet Union was rationalized as realpolitik, but class hostility was fundamental in explaining attitudes among the U.S. political elite. Moreover in this group anti-Semitic feelings were commonplace, as anti-Semitism and anti-communism were joined at the hip.

Lichtblau completely and deliberately fails to engage with this deeper context of the ongoing flirtation of the U.S. elite with the idea of fascism. But it is only at this level that one begins to understand why key institutions of the U.S. state failed to take account of the past of Nazi emigrants and were prepared to protect them. In failing to comprehend the continuing attraction of fascism to the business and political elite of the past, he is unable to grasp the form of that danger in the present. Indeed, in so far as he presents fascism as something foreign to the U.S. body politic, he helps to disarm public awareness of its growing menace today.

2015, Volume 66, Issue 11 (April)
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