The search for war criminals

Ross Laver March 11 1985

The search for war criminals

Ross Laver March 11 1985

The search for war criminals

Ross Laver

They are three old men now, immigrants to Canada living out their winter years in peaceful obscurity. In Vancouver, a 65-year-old former botany lecturer at the University of British Columbia spends quiet days in his white stuccoed bungalow on a secluded street in the city’s east end. In Windsor, Ont., a 74-year-old retired steelworker lives alone in a small apartment in a senior citizens’ residence, where he occasionally meets with friends to reminisce about their experiences in wartime Romania. And in Amherstburg, Ont., a 67-year-old retiree lives quietly in a small white bungalow with Ukrainian paintings decorating the walls. All three enjoy comfortable, serene lives in their adopted homeland—disrupted only by persistent allegations that they, and countless others now at large in Canada, are guilty of brutal crimes against humanity committed during the Second World War.

Convicted: Although the exact number of Nazi war criminals and their collaborators who found sanctuary in postwar Canada remains in dispute, there is no doubt that many did so. Indeed, dozens of alleged war criminals living in Canada have already been convicted in absentia by courts in the Soviet Union, Hungary, the Netherlands and Romania. Others—as many as 3,000, according to Sol Littman, a Toronto author who has written extensively on the Holocaust—are suspected of having participated in the torture and murder of Jews and non-Jews.

The sticking point in bringing alleged war criminals to justice, Littman and others argue, is not a lack of evidence. Instead, it is the federal government’s insistence that it is powerless to prosecute alleged war criminals—and its re-

fusal to enact new laws that would enable it to take action. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, an organization named for the Viennabased Nazi-hunter, called Ottawa’s response inadequate. Said Cooper: “The fact that so many war criminals found a safe haven in Canada is a black mark on your history. It is tantamount to spitting on the open graves of Nazi victims.”

Reluctant: Still, Cooper and others hope that Canada’s historical reluctance to prosecute wartime mass murderers is about to end. The reason: speculation last month that Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, who as chief physician at the Auschwitz death camp sent 400,000 people to their deaths, may have tried to enter Canada in 1962. In response to public concern about that case, federal Justice Minister John Crosbie established a commission of inquiry on Feb. 7 to investigate how many war criminals are living in Canada, how they arrived and whether legal means exist to bring them to justice.

The commission, head ed by Mr. Justice Jules Deschênes of the Quebec Superior Court, will have a $1-million budget, and it is to report its findings by Dec. 31. Said Crosbie: "The government is con cerned that we are not harboring within our midst some of the indi viduals guilty of commit-

ting the horrible Nazi war crimes of the Second World War." Crosbie also re vealed that the government is gathering evidence in one particular case in which it may soon launch a prosecution, al though he refused to provide details. And he added that he believes no more than 30 or 40 Nazi war criminals may be at large in Canada-not the hundreds or thousands that some Jewish groups claim. In the past 40 years Ottawa has only acted once against an alleged Nazi war

criminal. On June 17,1982, Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested Germanborn Albert Helmut Rauca while he was washing windows at his modest bungalow in the Toronto suburb of Willowdale. The 73-year-old Rauca, who had been a Canadian citizen since 1956, was once a staff sergeant in Hitler’s elite Schutzstaffeln, also known as the Black-

shirts—the dreaded SS. More important, Rauca was the officer in charge of Jews at the Kaunas death camp in Lithuania and, according to West German investigators, was responsible for the murders of 11,584 Lithuanian Jews.

Slaughter: Under Rauca’s command camp guards forced inmates to strip and stand at the edge of open graves before killing them with machine-gun fire. Five months after Rauca’s arrest the Supreme Court of Ontario ordered him deported to West Germany to stand tri-

al for the slaughter at Kaunas. He was formally indicted in Frankfurt on Sept. 28,1983, but died of intestinal cancer in Kassel prison hospital a month later, before he could be brought to trial.

Despite the Rauca case, it seems unlikely that other alleged war criminals in Canada will ever be brought to justice. For one thing, officials in Solicitor General Elmer MacKay’s department insist that the only way a Nazi or a Nazi collaborator can be arrested and tried is for another country to seek his extradition—as West Germany did in the Rauca case. In fact, there have been numerous requests for extradition, but

almost all of them came from the Soviet Union or other Communist bloc countries that suffered under Nazi occupation. In each of the Soviet cases, however, Canada has denied the request on the grounds that Ottawa has not signed an extradition treaty with Moscow. Canada does have extradition treaties with Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia, but Ottawa has refused to return alleged war criminals to those countries on the grounds that the accused would not receive a fair trial.

At the same time, Ottawa has turned down numerous requests for extradition by Western European countries. In 1981 the Netherlands government sought the extradition of Jacob Luitjens after former members of wartime resistance forces in Holland traced the Dutch-born botany teacher to Vancouver. Luitjens, who fled from Holland to Paraguay after the war using an assumed name, entered Canada in 1961 and became a citizen in 1971. But in 1948 a Dutch court sentenced him in absentia to life imprisonment for aiding the Nazis; during the trial he was accused of complicity in the deaths of a German army deserter and a Dutch underground member.

Clear: But Canada’s extradition treaty with the Netherlands does not specifically cover collaboration with the enemy, so Ottawa refused to act on the request. Luitjens now lives under his own name in east Vancouver, where he attends Mennonite church services on Sundays. Asked recently about his decision to aid the Nazis, he replied: “As a young student in those days, it was my ideal to build a better world. I chose the wrong path.” But he added that he personally had not murdered anyone. Said Luitjens: “I am in the clear with God.” Canada’s failure to take action in such cases has prompted a storm of criticism from Jewish community leaders. Irwin Cotier, a law professor at Montreal’s McGill University, for one, said that because of Ottawa’s poor record of admitting Jewish refugees from postwar Europe, Canada should make an extra effort to track down and prosecute Nazi war criminals. Said Cotier: “If there is one Nazi living in Canada, that is too many.” For his part, Bert Raphael, a Toronto lawyer and president of the Jewish Civil Rights Educational Foundation of Canada, said that many Jews believe that federal politicians have little enthusiasm for pursuing former Nazis. Said Raphael: “The attitude seems to be: ‘So there are a dozen or so hotshot Nazis floating around. Big deal.’ ” Atrocities: Littman and other critics argue that Ottawa’s lack of zeal in pursuing war criminals stems in part from a reluctance to antagonize Eastern European immigrant groups. They note that the majority of those in Canada suspected of committing wartime atrocities are not German-born but Ukrainian, Romanian, Hungarian and Lithuanian—and that members of those ethnic groups would likely be offended if one of their number were prosecuted for alleged war crimes. Indeed, last month there were angry protests from Toronto’s Ukrainian community after renewed accusations by Wiesenthal. In an Israeli radio interview picked up and rebroadcast in Canada, Wiesenthal said that 218 former Ukrainian officers of the SS who had operated death camps in

Eastern Europe were now in Canada.

In response to those charges John Nowosad, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee, told a news conference that the allegations “are not historically accurate” and impugn the reputation of Ukrainian Canadians. As well, a Ukrainian Catholic survivor of Auschwitz told Maclean's that according to his study of available records, his countrymen took no part in concentration camp atrocities. Said Michael Marunchak, 70, of Winnipeg: “There were no Ukrainian officers involved in running the camps. Only officers of the German race were allowed to.”

Pursued: Most experts acknowledge that the United States has pursued suspected war criminals more vigorously than Canada. Since 1979, when President Jimmy Carter’s administration established the Office of Special Investigations (OSl) to track down war criminals who settled in the United States, six alleged Nazis or Nazi collaborators have been stripped of their naturalized citizenship and forced to leave the country. Many more similar rulings are expected. Said OSl director Neal Sher: “We are in high gear now.” Indeed OSl’s 50 staff members, including lawyers and historians, with a $3.7-million annual budget, are preparing to take 30 suspected war criminals to court and are investigating 300 others.

The most conspicuous success so far for Sher’s unit came with the deportation to Portugal last August of Archbishop Valerian D. Trifa, 70, head of the 35,000-member Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America. But it took nine years before Trifa—accused of inciting a 1941 pogrom in Bucharest which killed at least 300 Christians and Jews—ended a legal battle to remain in the United States. Said Sher: “Nazi hunting is an arduous, tedious process.”

Concealed: Despite increased prosecutions against alleged Nazis, such critics as Representative William Lehman (D-Fla.) maintain that the U.S. government had a policy to avoid vigorous searches for evidence of war crimes. According to recently released intelligence documents, soon after the war ended the United States launched a highly classified campaign called Operation Paperclip. Its aim: to conceal the war crimes of German scientists and intelligence agents in order to ensure their entry to the United States. Said Lehman; “After the war we were trying people and sentencing them to death in Nuremberg, and the same kind of people were being brought into this country to work on our rocket program.”

In all, 492 German scientists and engineers were sent to the United States by May, 1948—among them the brilliant

Arthur Rudolph, who later developed the Saturn V rocket which took U.S. astronauts to the moon. When he retired in 1969 the National Aeronautical and Space Administration awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal, the agency’s highest civilian honor. But in 1983 then-OSI director Allan A. Ryan visited Rudolph at his home in San José, Calif. There, he warned the scientist that he had evidence that Rudolph had been production manager in a Nazi rocket factory where concentration camp inmates had served as slave laborers. Facing prosecution, Rudolph renounced his U.S. citizenship in May, 1984, after returning to West Germany, where he is now living quietly in Hamburg.

There are other instances of war criminals finding a haven in the United States. According to John Loftus, a former U.S. justice department prosecutor, more than 300 Soviet-born Nazi collaborators were spirited into the United States after the war in return for their participation in Cold War spying operations against the Soviets. At the same time, the British secret service sponsored a similar immigration service for Nazis wanting to get to Canada, Loftus said.

And a highly placed intelligence source told Maclean 's that several suspected Nazi collaborators entered Canada from the United States after the war using false documentation furnishedby U.S. intelligence.

The scheme apparently ended soon after it began when the RCMP learned about the operation and protested because it had not been informed in advance. Former Liberal solicitor general Robert Kaplan, who ordered an investigation, has accused the Conservatives of suppressing a report on the incident. Kaplan himself has also withheld details of the study, arguing that the principle of cabinet secrecy prevents him from releasing such information.

For his part, Wiesenthal says he is frustrated by what he considers to be Canada’s shameful record of harboring Nazi war criminals—and in protest he refuses to visit Canada. Even the Tory decision to appoint a special committee

has not placated the 77-year-old Nazi hunter. “They tell me that the Mounties are after them now,” said Wiesenthal last week, speaking in a Vienna office guarded by surveillance cameras. “That is good enough for me in the meantime.

But I think I will wait until I have seen some results.” Unless there are dramatic changes in government policy, it seems likely that elderly men and women accused of horrific crimes almost half a century ago will continue to live out their lives peacefully —and Wiesenthal will not set foot on Canadian soil.

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