Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Most Wanted List of Nazis Shifts With Two More Nabbed

From The New York Forward, June 24, 2013, issue of June 28, 2013, by Anne Cohen:
Video: Nate Lavey

When a recent exposé unmasked a 94-year-old Minneapolis resident as the commander of a Nazi-led unit and as an SS officer during World War II, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter faced a vexing dilemma: Who should be bumped off the center’s “Most Wanted War Criminals” list next year to make room for him?
Fortunately for him, a spot just opened up. Laszlo Csatary — the longtime top man on the list for his alleged role in deporting 15,700 Jews to Auschwitz from a ghetto in Hungarian-occupied Slovakia — was charged with war crimes in Hungary on June 17. He will be tried within 90 days, at which time his name could be dropped as a wanted Nazi.
Michael Karkoc, a Ukrainian immigrant and retired carpenter, was not even on the list before The Associated Press located him living quietly in Northeast Minneapolis. His discovery, followed by Csatary’s indictment, highlights the sometimes quirky process by which a usually anonymous and elderly individual living quietly somewhere, but with a dark secret, can suddenly find himself posted everywhere as one of the world’s most wanted human rights offenders.
In any given year, who gets bumped “depends on how many people are brought to justice,” explained Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter. In addition, old Nazi war criminals don’t just fade away; they also die. “Two of those people might pass away this year,” Zuroff said of the present list members. But don’t fear for the list’s demise. Despite the passage of time since World War II, said Zuroff, “There’s no shortage of names, there are plenty of people who should be brought to justice and whose names are known.”
J. Edgar Hoover, who launched the world’s first most wanted list in 1950 with the FBI’s “10 Most Wanted,” may enjoy pride of authorship of this unique publicity and marketing device. But the Wiesenthal Center’s “Most Wanted Nazi War Criminals” is not far behind in terms of prominence.
All of which highlights a series of questions about the state of Nazi hunting some 68 years after the Nazis’ defeat: What does it take to catch a Nazi nowadays? Who makes the list? What kind of heinous act warrants first place? And what happens when someone is brought to justice or dies?
Zuroff, director of the center’s Israel branch, and author of “Operation Last Chance: One Person’s Quest To Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice,” has spent countless hours developing a system to classify the remaining Nazis at large.
The center’s annual list, he said, is not necessarily a roll call in absolute terms of the world’s worst surviving Nazis. Rather, he said, these are “the people we hope will be brought to justice in the coming year.”
Three factors determine where someone falls on the list. The first is command responsibility. For example, Csatary was a senior officer in the Hungarian police force at the time his crimes were committed.
The second determining criterion is whether one personally committed murder. Csatary did not, which brings Zuroff to the third standard: the scope of the crime. “He didn’t commit murder himself,” Zuroff said. “But he was responsible for the death of more than 15,000 people. That gives him top priority.” Csatary, 98, is currently under house arrest in Hungary, awaiting possible extradition to Slovakia to stand trial.
Zuroff’s main task is pressuring governments into taking action against those whose crimes have already been denounced or exposed. Until that initial exposure, the center has little or no role to play and must rely on individual government agencies. The case of Csatary, pursued from beginning to end by Zuroff and his team, is an exception. “That’s our victory!” Zuroff exclaimed when asked about the news.  

Kurt Hoffman

Rosenbaum has been hunting Nazis since 1979, when, as a law student, he saw a newspaper advertisement announcing the creation of a Justice Department unit that would pursue Nazi war criminals living in the United States.
Thirty-four years later, in what he calls “a summer internship gone awry,” Rosenbaum is still at it — the longest-running investigator of human rights violators living in the United States in the Justice Department’s history. Five of the 10 names on Zuroff’s list are people who were discovered and prosecuted by Rosenbaum’s team.
What sounds like intrepid and adventurous work is actually based on paperwork — a lot of paperwork. In the 1980s, Rosenbaum’s agency, then known as the Office of Special Investigations, built a database of all the people who could reasonably be considered to have had Nazi involvement. This involved, Rosenbaum said, going over more than 70,000 names “in SS records and on Most Wanted lists” and comparing each of those names against immigration records in the United States.
“People that have read too many John le Carré novels think that the way these cases originate is that a survivor recognizes their oppressor on the street. That’s not the reality,” Rosenbaum explained. “I wish it were more like television.”
From a team that numbered 50 strong at its peak, in the 1980s, the number of HRSPS staffers devoted to rooting out Nazi war criminals is now down to 10. For years, the OSI was the only law enforcement agency to have its own team of historians on staff, as well as translators who spoke German, Polish, Hungarian and other languages.
Because the alleged crimes were not perpetrated on American soil, Rosenbaum and his team have no criminal jurisdiction to prosecute. They can only build a civil case for the suspect’s deportation to his country of origin, or to some other country with criminal jurisdiction. In Karkoc’s case there are three possible options: Ukraine, his country of origin; Poland, where he committed the majority of his crimes, and Germany, because he worked under the auspices of the Third Reich.
In the end, like Zuroff, with whom he has a “very good relationship,” Rosenbaum performs work that relies on the willingness of a foreign government to prosecute old men and women for crimes committed more than half a century ago.
“It’s very frustrating,” Rosenbaum admitted. “If you have a low frustration threshold, this is not the work you want to do. The vast majority of the people we have returned to Europe have not been prosecuted.” Formal conviction is rare, he noted.              
Given this reality, Zuroff has carved out a six-level scale of achievement for gauging his own success.
The first step is to expose the criminals publicly. “That is the most painful punishment for the criminals, because a lot of the time, their families have no idea what they did during the war,” Zuroff explained.
If an official investigation is launched, that is a second step. An indictment or extradition is a third. If a country is really determined, the case might go to trial. And in rare cases, the criminals are convicted and finally punished.
“It’s very hard to get to six,” Zuroff said. In part because of a lack of political will in many of the European countries where these people reside, but also because of the advanced age of the criminals in question.
“We’re running out of time,” Zuroff explained. “Do you know soccer? After 90 minutes are over, the referee decides how much time to add because of delays and injuries. You can win a game or lose a game in those extra minutes. So, we’re in injury time.”
In 2002 this urgency led Zuroff to help launch an initiative offering cash rewards for information leading to the indictment and/or conviction of Nazi war criminals. Operation Last Chance, a project dreamed up by Aryeh Rubin, a Florida-based investor, and run by Zuroff and his office, offers would-be tipsters up to $33,400 for such information. Csatary’s exposure and subsequent prosecution is a direct result of this campaign. A partial reward has been paid to his informant, with the rest pending on the verdict and eventual sentence he receives at trial.
From the 2002 launch of Operation Last Chance, until December 2011, the center received 635 tips about alleged Nazis. Of these, 105 suspects were subject to prosecutions by respective governments. During this period, Zuroff has given out a total of $10,000 in reward money to two information sources, one in Croatia, the other in Hungary. In December 2011, the second phase of the project, known as Operation Last Chance II, was launched in Germany, funded jointly by Rubin and U.S. investor Steven Mizel, with the promise of higher rewards for information.
According to Zuroff, while the United States has the political will to deport suspected Nazi war criminals, countries like Hungary and Lithuania have good reasons to stall actual prosecution efforts. In Eastern Europe, the role of local government collaborators included “active participation in mass murder,” Zuroff said. “The Nazis integrated the local population in the mechanisms.”
Beyond Zuroff and Rubin’s rewards program, the time, money and effort spent by the Justice Department and the Wiesenthal Center to pursue Nazi war criminals are considerable.
But, with almost all of the senior Nazi war criminals long captured or dead, those on the Most Wanted list today tend to have ranked relatively low in the Nazi war machine. There simply are no more Eichmanns or Mengeles. Alois Brunner one of Eichmann’s top aides, fled to Syria after World War II and formally remains on the list — but, born in 1912 and not seen since 2001, he is in a special section with an asterisk next to his name, because even Zuroff concedes that now he is almost surely dead.
These realities lead some to question this allocation of resources.
“I wouldn’t be so hung up about the age,” said Ruth Bettina Birn, a former colleague of Rosenbaum’s and former chief historian of the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Section of Canada’s Ministry of Justice. “But are there still people who are significant?….There is no one who is a decision maker.”
In 2008, when Csatary’s true identity was uncovered in Hungary, Holocaust historian Laszlo Karsai, a son of Holocaust survivors, made an additional argument that prosecuting these men has become a waste of resources and time. “Csatáry was a small fish,” he told the BBC. “The money spent hunting down people like him would be better spent fighting the propaganda of those who so energetically deny the Holocaust today.”
Zuroff counters that through their pursuit of these elderly men, he and other activists are also doing what Karsai demands. The ongoing investigations, he said, serve as an effective tool against Holocaust denial.
Beyond that, “the passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killer,” Zuroff said. “Just because these people are old does not turn them into righteous gentiles. Our obligation is to the victims; [prosecution] sends a powerful message to those who perpetrate terrible crimes.”
Contact Anne Cohen at

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Iran's President Rouhani: sometimes the bull wins the bullfight

From the Times of Israel, 22 June 2013, by Emanuele Ottolenghi*:

...Last Friday’s victory by former Iranian nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rouhani, probably came as a surprise for the regime, despite the carefully choreographed election process that ensured all candidates were unswerving regime loyalists. If nothing else, it vindicates Western pressure on the regime and proves that if Iran is to be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, sanctions’ pressure must relentlessly continue.
Hopeful early commentary of Rouhani’s success focuses on his supposedly reformist credentials, forgetting that albeit unintentionally, Rouhani represents a propitious star alignment for the regime. After all, Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, had Rouhani appointed head of the Supreme National Security Council in the 1990’s and later to the Expediency Council. A product of Iran’s clerical establishment who spent most of his life dealing with security and intelligence matters – including, possibly, an active role in the systematic murder of regime opponents in the 1990’s – Rouhani is hardly a dissident. He has already distanced himself from the endorsement he received from his reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, by criticizing the radicalism of Khatami’s era. He took pride in his memoirs of deceiving the West during his time as nuclear negotiator. And he has publicly boasted that he sees Pakistan as a model for emulation when it comes to the nuclear question. This is hardly promising for those who see in his election a potential page turner for nuclear negotiations.
This is not to say that Rouhani’s victory was a cunning plot by the regime. He probably won fair and square – for once, the regime realized that it had everything to lose by tampering with the vote.
Voters, having been denied all other choices after the regime disqualified almost all candidates, concentrated their support on the only candidate left standing, who appeared least favored by the Supreme Leader. Their vote is a rejection of the regime’s reckless nuclear policies – both a sign that sanctions are working and that the people by and large blame their rulers.
It is not the first time the regime has let the people choose – it happened in 1997, when reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami won the presidency. Then as now, Iran’s predicament was one of political isolation and economic difficulty. In 1997 oil prices were low and Iran was isolated because of its terrorist activities under former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. In 2013, Iran is subject to severe sanctions and its oil income has decreased significantly.
The regime could not risk a rerun of 2009, when the fraudulent re-election of the Supreme Leader’s preferred candidate, then-incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, led to one of the biggest domestic challenges to clerical rule since the Revolution in 1979. Four years later, elections seem to show that Iranians of all walks of life are losing their patience with the regime. Even the poorer, the rural countryside and the more traditionalist base appear to have thrown their support for Rouhani. Aware that regime support was hemorrhaging heavily, Khamenei must have resigned himself to Rouhani, as any major fraud could lead to another uprising except, this time, it would engulf the entire country.
Keenly aware of the growing international isolation Iran experiences and the attendant economic hardship it suffers due to sanctions, Iran’s rulers need someone who can turn the page, both domestically and internationally, to restore enough breathing space for their policies. As sanctions continue to bite into Iran’s oil revenues and access to the international financial system, reconciling Iran’s nuclear ambitions with the danger of internal collapse under economic pressure has become a perilous business. Allowing Rouhani to win, despite the ferocious criticism conservative media poured on him in the run-up to the vote, shows that the Supreme Leader presently sees the advantage of a ‘moderate’ rising to the presidency.
After all, the president will not have a free hand in making policy but his accession to power will buy Iran time.
Having Rouhani as Iran’s public international face may drive a wedge within Western countries on the nuclear issue just long enough for the regime to cross the finish line. Allowing him to run the country’s domestic affairs may placate internal dissent. And if Rouhani – who already asked for it – manages to squeeze sanctions’ relief from his Western interlocutors, the regime will have squared the circle. While it is still too early to draw a clear picture of why Khamenei let people choose Rouhani, the magic combination of low oil income, international isolation and military threats offers a plausible explanation.
The real glimmer of hope one must draw from Rouhani’s victory, then, is not that reform and compromise are finally on their way. Rather, this is a vote of no confidence in the system, proof that most Iranians do not care about the nuclear program and conclusive vindication, if any was still needed, that Western sanctions’ policy has undermined the regime beyond all predictions.
It is not time to waiver then – more pressure can bring this regime to its knees – and who knows, as Rouhani succumbs to a system he has no desire to dismantle, maybe Iranians will conclude that no improvement will come their way until they square off with this regime once and for all.

*This article was co-authored by Saeed Ghasseminejad, a Ph.D. candidate at Baruch College, in New York City

The Irena Sendler Project

The Lowell Milken Center's (LMC) Unsung Heroes project is continuing its decade-long program of encouraging young learners to create, develop, research and submit projects that honor unsung heroes. The program offers an annual prize to students who create quality award-winning material about a historical personality who made a positive impact on the world.
The first LCM Unsung Heroes project was created in 1999 by a group of Kansas City school girls who had heard vague rumors about a Polish woman who had saved over 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII. The girls' work brought the activities of Irena Sendler* and her Zagota (underground) comrades out into the open, ensuring that her heroic actions would become part of the historical record. Due to the research project and the resulting Lowell Milken Center Award the story of Irena Sendler has reached thousands of people through a performance that tells of the events as well as a subsequent book and website.
See here and here for previous postings about Irena Sendler.

Irena Sendler was a young Polish social worker when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. She joined the Zagota, an underground unit that was specifically devoted to helping Jews escape from the German dragnet, and between 1939 and 1941 she and her comrades helped to forge documents and find safe hiding places for hundreds of fleeing Jews.
In 1941, when the Warsaw Ghetto was established Sendler obtained documents that would allow her to enter the ghetto with food and medicines. She quickly ascertained that the Germans' ultimate intention would involve destroying the ghetto and murdering all of the Jews and she determined to save, in whatever time remained, as many lives as possible.
Sendler felt that it was easiest to smuggle children out of the ghetto and she began to do so, bringing them out by hiding them in toolboxes, bags, luggage and even under garbage carts or under piles of rags with barking dogs on top. She identified a network of hidden tunnels and sewers which she used to smuggle many of the children out. "I talked the mothers out of their children" Sendler later said, describing the heartwrenching scenes that she had to endure, day after day, as she separated the parents from their children.
Once on the "safe" side of the wall Sendler and other Zagota members placed the children in convents, orphanages and with families for safekeeping. She kept careful track of the children's names and their placements and extracted promises from the children's guardians that they would allow the children to return to their families and Jewish community after the war. Sendler placed these lists in glass jars which she buried in her neighbor's garden.
In October 1943 the Gestapo arrested Sendler. She endured horrendous torture but she never revealed the identities of her comrades or the locations of any of "her" children. She was freed by a bribed German guard as she was being led to her execution.
Sendler's actions are now being publicized by LMC as the "Life in a Jar" project. LMC was started by Lowell Milken a Jewish businessman from the early childhood education industry and promotes the stories of unknown heroes including a number of Holocaust heroes.

Israel's Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace

This 5-minute video, first published by JCPA on 25 May 2010, is even more relevant today than ever before:

Israel, in any future agreement with the Palestinians, has a critical need for defensible borders. This video outlines the threats to Israel from terrorist rockets, ballistic missiles, and conventional ground and air threats from the east.

See more -