MLC Logo 

Annual 6 Chapter 8

American Anti-Nazism:
A Cold War Casualty
by Earlean M. McCarrick

Christopher Simpson. Blowback: America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988. 398 pages.

Official American policy toward Nazism is embodied in its World War II pledge to hold the "Hitlerite Huns" responsible for their "atrocities, massacres and coldblooded executions,"1 its postwar participation in the International Military Tribunal (IMT), and its institution of a policy of clenazification and trial of Nazi criminals in its zone of occupation.

Congress confirmed American revulsion of Nazism when it forbade the entrance of Nazi criminals into the United States as displaced persons. The 1948 Displaced Persons Act (DPA), as amended in 1950, modified American immigration law to permit some of those uprooted by the war, mostly East Europeans, to enter the United States, but it explicitly excluded:

1. War criminals, quislings, and traitors,

2. Any other persons who can be shown:

(a) to have assisted the enemy in persecuting civil populations of countries, members of the United Nations; or
(b) to have voluntarily assisted the enemy forces in their operations against the United Nations.2
However, at the same time that the United States publicly participated in the Nuremberg prosecutions, officially initiated the policy of denazification in its zone of occupation, and excluded Nazis from its shores, it also secretly pursued a conflicting agenda.3 It competed with the USSR (as well as England) for Nazi scientists-not to try them for their criminal exploitation of concentration camp inmates as laboratory animals and as slave laborers but to lure them into service in American governmental programs. As first Operation Overcast and then Project Paperclip enticed Nazi scientists, American military intelligence also began to enlist Nazi intelligence personnel to obtain information about the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites.

The trial and punishment of Nazi criminals and the denazification program faltered. Resources initially used against Nazi criminals-for example, the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects (CROWCASS),4 established by the Allies to facilitate the identification and arrest of Nazi criminals, and the U.S. Army's Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), initially assigned the task of tracking down those Nazis to be brought to trial-were diverted to cold war intrigues. Nazis, as the experienced government officials, industrialists, and bankers, were returned to power. Relatively few perpetrators, except for the big-name celebrities at Nuremberg, were both tried and punished. By 1950, with the beginning of the Korean War, the new High Commissioner of Germany John McCloy (who had administered, and even in the 1980s defended, America's wartime relocation program under which persons of Japanese ancestry were removed from the West Coast and confined in internment camps) appeased German demands and opted for clemency for many imprisoned Nazi criminals.

Since the end of World War II, allegations of a gap between American policy and performance have been made. By the 1970s, public and official interest was aroused. Interest focused on the question of the presence of Nazi criminals in the United States and the role, if any, of American officials in circumventing anti-Nazi immigration policy.

In 1973 in response to outside pressure, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the agency responsible for deporting illegal aliens, began to give more serious, though ineffectual, attention to allegations that Nazi criminals were in the United States. In 1977 the INS established a Special Litigation Unit to centralize litigation against Nazi criminals. In 1979 Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti created the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) in the Criminal Division of the Justice Department to combine in one office all investigative and litigation activities concerning the denaturalization and deportation of Nazi criminals.

In 1977 the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives directed the General Accounting Office (GAO) to examine the handling by the INS of allegations concerning Nazi criminals in the United States. The 1978 GAO report concluded that Widespread Conspiracy to Obstruct Probes of Alleged Nazi War Criminals Not Supported by Available Evidence, but noted both that some Nazi criminals had entered the United States and that its efforts to obtain the facts "were hindered by ... limited access to agencies' records."5 In 1978 Congress adopted the Holtzman Amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act, adding to the list of deportable aliens those who between March 1933 and May 1945 had assisted the government of Nazi Germany in persecuting individuals because of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion.6 In 1982 the House Judiciary Committee again requested a GAO investigation of allegations concerning the relationship between federal agencies and Nazi criminals. The 1985 GAO report verified that Nazi and Axis Collaborators Were Used to Further U.S. Anti-Communist Objectives in Europe-Some Immigrated to the United States.7

In 1983 after the Lyons wartime Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie was expelled from Bolivia and returned to France for trial amid allegations of American involvement with him, Allan A. Ryan, Jr., director of OSI, submitted the results of his investigation of the affair. His report concluded that the CIC had employed Barbie, circumvented the French extradition request, and spirited him out of Europe via a "ratline," or underground escape route operated largely by and for members of the Ustasha, the fascist party which ran the Nazi puppet "Independent State of Croatia" in Yugoslavia during the war.8 In 1988 the OSI investigated allegations that the CIC had employed and protected Robert Jan Verbelen, another Nazi criminal, who was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in absentia for war crimes by a Belgian court-martial but escaped punishment and became an Austrian citizen. The report by Neal Sher, Ryan's successor as director of OSI, largely substantiated the allegations.9 In addition, private investigators have also shown interest in Nazi criminals and American policy.10

Within this context of contemporary interest in American postwar policy toward Nazi criminals, Christopher Simpson, an investigative reporter and visiting scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, has published the results of his careful research. Aided by the Freedom of Information Act, the declassification of secret documents, and his diligent search of archives here and abroad, Simpson makes a significant contribution to increased understanding not only of a covert policy so at odds with our overt policy but also of the dangers inherent in government secrecy.

The term blowback (spy jargon meaning "unexpected-and negative-effects at home that result from covert operations abroad") succinctly describes Simpson's thesis that American recruitment of Nazis had and continues to have serious and detrimental repercussions for American foreign and domestic political life, especially for Soviet-American relations. Subtitled America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War, Simpson's work is most solid in documenting American employment and protection of Nazis and, of necessity, more speculative in assessing the effects of their recruitment on the cold war.

Opening with Ryan's press-conference release of the Barbie report which found no evidence that the CIC knew of Barbie's wartime activities or that it had similar relationships with other Nazi criminals, Simpson takes us back to post-World War II Europe to explore the accuracy of those claims. His research reveals that far from being an isolated incident, the Barbie affair was but one of many such relationships between American authorities and Nazis. The American authorities knew-or could and should have known-the backgrounds of their recruits, and decisions to employ them were made at the highest levels of government.

Initially recruited by the CIC as "police informer" types to obtain intelligence about the Soviet Union, many Nazis became, under first the CIC, and then the CIA and the State Department, integral and important parts of the American intelligence, political warfare, and espionage apparatus. Operating primarily in Germany as intelligence sources in the early postwar period, these recruits spanned Europe and became involved in American covert actions and political warfare throughout the continent as American intelligence needs expanded and its overseas adventures became more ambitious. Some of the Nazi recruits were brought to the United States in violation of American immigration law, sometimes under special laws passed by Congress at the behest of the CIA (such as the 100 Persons Act of 1949, which authorized the CIA to admit 100 "otherwise inadmissible persons" who were "vital to national security") and sometimes under the regular immigration law or the DPA with the aid of CIA falsification of identities and sanitization of wartime records. Some eventually played a role in American politics, primarily through their participation in East European emigre organizations.

Some of the recruits were German Nazis, including such relatively high- ranking officials as Alois Brunner and Otto von Bolschwing, aides to Adolph Eichmann, and Reinhard Gehlen, the head of Nazi Germany's eastern front intelligence apparatus. Others, such as Valrian Trifa from Romania, Vilis Hazners from Latvia, and Mykola Lebed from the Ukraine-all three came to the United States-were East European collaborators. In contrast to the Paperclip scientists who came to play public, and indeed even acclaimed, roles in American life-most notably Wernher von Braun, who became head of the American space program, and his space colleague Arthur Randolph-other lesser-known Nazis received more secret missions here and abroad. The recruitment and the assignment of the latter types are the subject of Simpson's in-depth analysis.

None was recruited because of pro-Nazi sympathies, though indifference to the wartime activities of the recruits and naivete about the trustworthiness of their information and judgments played a role. During the early recruitment of Nazis, American officials took care to direct the use of only "nominal" or "opportunistic" party members and to caution against the use of unrehabilitated Nazis. In later phases, they sterilized the wartime records of their Nazi recruits. A few American officials (most notably the State Department's Samuel Maus, who fought against the use of Nazi scientists but was soon posted elsewhere) objected to any role at all for Nazis.11 The more characteristic attitude was that of the pragmatic George Kerman, who opposed purging Nazis and preferred "to remain ignorant" about their past (p. 89).

To American authorities, the anticommunism of German Nazis and East European collaborators, coupled with their World War II experience as enemies of the USSR, endowed them with special intelligence expertise that the United States lacked and needed. Rapid demobilization after the war depleted the ranks of army intelligence, leaving mostly inexperienced agents in the service when the cold war began and information about the USSR was at a premium. Simpson reports that "the basic rationale U.S. policymakers used after 1945 to justify employment of former Nazis and collaborators was the possibilityno the imminence-of the outbreak of a new war between the United States and the USSR" (p.3) and that "the basic rationale for using Nazis in covert operations has consistently been that doing so was of practical value to the United States in international relations, that it was putting future American interests 'above the delights of revenge, 11 (p. 277).

After an introductory overview of the American recruitment of Nazi scientists, an analysis of the centrality of anticommunism along with antisernitism in Nazi ideology, and an examination of the pivotal role of East European collaborators in executing Nazi Germany's policy of exterminating communists and Jews, Simpson turns his attention to the role of the CIC and CIA. He explores in depth the conversion of the CIC's role from investigating Nazis to combating communism and using Nazis to do so; the CIA's use of Nazis in its attempted coup d'etat in Romania in 1947 and in its interventions in the 1947 Greek and 1948 Italian elections; the Operation Bloodstone recruitment of Soviet 6migr6s from 1948 to 1950, including Nazi collaborators, for "political warfare" in Eastern Europe, the Ukraine, and the Baltic states, which eventually led to sabotage and assassination operations abroad and the entrance of the CIA into domestic politics in the 1950s through support of "liberation" groups; and the recruitment and role of Reinhard Gehlen, whose "organization ... left the most substantial imprint on the United States" because its analysis of the USSR "became widely accepted in U.S. intelligence circles and remains so to this day" (p. 52).

In the waning days of the war, Gehlen microfilmed, packed in watertight containers, and hid in Austrian mountain sites information about the Soviet Union collected by Nazi Germany, much of it obtained by the interrogation of Soviet POWs, four million of whom had been tortured and starved to death by the Germans on the eastern front. Using this vast store of information as a bargaining chip, Gehlen obtained American authorization to put together an intelligence organization which, Simpson maintains, was composed primarily of German and Elast European Nazis. Simpson concludes that much of what the United States knew about Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the postwar period came from Gehlen, whose erroneous information exaggerated both Soviet military strength and aggressive intentions. Indeed, Simpson notes that the U.S. Army disregarded its own 1946 assessment that the Soviet Union had neither the capacity nor the will to initiate hostilities and accepted Gehlen's exaggerations of both. Gehlen's misinformation in turn was the basis for a 1949 telegram from General Lucius Clay to Washington which "strongly implied a full scale military offensive against Western Europe was brewing" (p. 61) and which led American civilian and military authorities to believe that war with the Soviet Union was imminent.

For Simpson, the war hysteria in the highest reaches of government in the late 1940s, fueled by little more than erroneous intelligence and surmises supplied by Gehlen's organization, was only one deleterious effect of the American use of Nazis. He argues that the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union first for Nazi scientists and then for Nazi spies led to a continuing mutual distrust that "undermin[ed] the possibility of superpower peace" (p.278). However accurate that statement, it falls short as an explanation. The competition could as easily be a symptom, not a cause--or both or neither. Anglo-American competition for Nazi scientists led neither to a cold war between them nor to irreparably damaged relations. Had the United States refused to compete for Nazis with the USSR, thus facilitating Soviet recruitment, America's hands would have been cleaner, its body politic less polluted; but it is not clear that Soviet-American relations would have been more cordial.

Simpson also maintains that another "major type of damaging blowback has been the destructive effect that Western covert operations and political warfare-particularly programs employing Nazi collaborators-had on provoking the cold war and later crises in EastWest relations" (p. 278). As one example, Simpson, in one of his more fanciful speculations, points to the "undermin[ing] of Eastern European public understanding of Western-style norms and civil liberties" (p. 279). In addition, he argues that in some instances (in Romania, Poland, and the Ukraine) such operations strengthened Soviet-backed regimes while in others (Greece and Italy) they helped to return right-wing extremists to power. This litany of damaging consequences, even if accurate, is as much a condemnation of the operations themselves as an assessment of the negative impact of the employment of Nazis in those endeavors. Even Simpson himself in his statement about such "damaging blowback" refers to "covert operations and political warfare," with "Nazi collaborators" as an aside, rather than to the effects of the employment of Nazis, which the title and subtitle of his book stress. It seems reasonable to assume that even if Nazis had not been involved, the CIA's covert attempts to thwart communist ascension to power in Europe would have created tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, Simpson's basic point is well-taken: using Nazis makes America's dirty work dirtier.

A third, highly speculative, blowback is Simpson's assertion that the American intelligence apparatus is still infected with the tendency to exaggerate both the strength and the hostility of the Soviet Union and to tell superiors what they want to hear rather than what dispassionate analysis reveals, traits presumably traceable to its entanglement with the virulent anticommunism of Nazi ideologues. To blame the Nazis for the postwar anticommunism of the United States ignores our historic anticommunist hysteria. American fear of the left (not just of communism but of socialism, paternalism, and the welfare state) and American tolerance of rightist extremism are two of our oldest, if not our more honorable, traditions. We must also remember that the post-World War I "red scare" preceded the rise of the Nazis to power. To report to superiors what they want to hear is more a human failing than a Nazi contribution to the American intelligence community.

More substantiated is Simpson's determination that the corrupting influence of recruiting Nazi criminals continues because of the CIA's "disposal" needs, that is, the need to find a safe haven for its operatives once their usefulness is at an end. The CIA, thus, has on occasion even sernipublicly come to the aid of those Nazi recruits it brought to the United States who are targets of OSI's denaturalization and deportation efforts. Simpson reports that in 1976 the CIA informed one such deportation target, Edgars Laipenieks, of its intervention with the INS on his behalf, a communication that the defendant used to his advantage at his deportation hearing. Simpson also makes a well-founded argument that the CIA's circumvention of immigration laws in bringing Nazi criminals to the United States constitutes an "obstruction of justice" (p. 285) because it makes it difficult to denaturalize or deport Nazi criminals who did not personally lie to get into the United States. Rather, an official governmental agency did the lying for them.12

For Simpson, the most serious blowback is the entrance of the CIA into domestic politics in the 1950s and its consequent role in the anticommunist hysteria of that era. The CIA entered domestic politics through its East European recruits, including some Nazi collaborators, who became liberation activists (those intent upon liberating East European countries from Soviet domination). Simpson's research reveals that the CIA poured millions of dollars into the efforts of such emigre groups to influence American public opinion, policy, and elections.

While his analysis of the CIA's role in the various liberation groups is well supported, as is his documentation of the presence of Nazis within them, his assessment of the political influence of these groups (and particularly of the Nazis within them) upon American foreign policy is shakier. Most members of closely knit ethnic communities maintain emotional ties to their homelands and frequently bring their old quarrels with them. If politically active, they commonly seek to use the power of their new country for the benefit of their former ones. Since immigrants from communist regimes are usually anticommunist, whether Nazi or not, they could be expected to urge a foreign policy consistent with that political stance. While East European 6migr6 groups supported the John Foster Dulles kind of "roll-back" rhetoric, it is not clear that either the groups themselves or their Nazi component greatly influenced its development. The ease of the CIA's entrance into American domestic life-and its enthusiasm for the roll back rhetoric-appears more accurately attributable to its recruitment of Eastern Europeans than to its recruitment of Nazis. Nonetheless, Simpson's argument is not without merit. The CIA secretly and illegally participated in American politics to the detriment of its recruits, their homelands, and the public interest. The absorption of CIA Nazis into East European ethnic communities probably intensified the virulence and irrationality of their, and therefore America's, anticommunism. CIA dollars magnified such anticommunist power and facilitated access to decision makers.

However dubious some of Simpson's blowback surmises are, he has rendered a major service in further documenting the American government's clandestine movement away from its public commitment to bring the "Hitlerite Huns" to justice and its adoption of a secret agenda of sanitizing, using, and absolving them. For that, we are in his debt.


1. Moscow Declaration, I Nov. 1943.

2. Act of 25 June 1948, Public Law No. 80-774, 62 Stat. 1009. Act of 16 June 1950, Public Law No. 81-555 ' 64 Stat. 219. The 1950 amendment excluded those who "advocated or assisted in the persecution of any person because of race, religion, or national origin."

3. For a documentation and evaluation of both the Paperclip venture and the denazification failure, see Tom Bower, Pledge Betrayed: America and Britain and the Denazification of Post-War Germany (New York, 1982); and idem, Paperclip Conspiracy: The Hunt for the Nazi Scientists (Boston, 1988).

4. Simpson inaccurately translates this acronym as War Crimes and Security Suspects.

5. Comptroller General, GAC)/GGD 78-73 (Washington, 15 May 1978).

6. Immigration and Nationality Act, section 241(a)(19), 8 U.S.C. 1251(a)(19).

7. Comptroller General, GAC)/GGD 85-66 (Washington, 28 June 1985).

8. U.S. Department of justice, Criminal Division, Klaus Barbie and the United States Government, Vol. 1: A Report to the Attorney General of the United States, Vol. 2: Exhibits to the Report to the Attorney General of the United States, submitted by Allan A. Ryan, Jr. (Washington, Aug. 1983) [See review in SWC Annual 3:261-76]. See also Allan A. Ryan, Jr., Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi Criminals in the United States (San Diego, New York, and London, 1984).

9. Neal M. Sher, Aron A. Golberg, and Elizabeth B. White, Robert Ian Verbelen and the United States Government: A Report to the Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, June 1988).

10. See Howard Blum, Wanted: The Search for Nazis in America (Greenwich, CT, 1977); Tom Bower, Pledge Betrayed; idem, Paperclip Conspiracy; Clarence Lasby, Project Paperclip (New York, 1971); and John Loftus, Tile Belarus Secret (New York, 1982).

11. For a full discussion of Klaus, see Bower's Paperclip Conspiracy, an erudite study of the wartime crimes of these Nazi scientists and American recruitment of them. Simpson mentions Klaus briefly in his background summary of Project Paperclip.

12. In this discussion, as elsewhere, Simpson fails to make a clear distinction between the legal problems involved in denaturalization litigation and those found in deportation litigation. In denaturalization proceedings involving Nazi criminals, a central issue has been the materiality of the defendant's misrepresentation or concealment of his Nazi past. For a discussion of this issue, see Henry Friedlander and Earlean M. McCarrick, "Nazi Criminals in the United States: The Fedorenko Case," SWC Annual 2 (1985): 63-93. Because the Holtzman amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act provides for the deportation of those who assisted Nazi Germany in the persecution of persons because of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion, the question of whether the alien lied, misrepresenting or concealing a material fact, is not the central issue.

Chap 9

[Home] [Index] [Courage to Remember] [Glossary of the Holocaust] [Educational Resources] [36 Questions About Holocaust] [Library] [Bookstore]

Copyright © 1997, The Simon Wiesenthal Center
9760 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90035