Between 1945 and 1952, some 96,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors made their way to the United States. As they sought to start their lives anew and rebuild entire communities from the ashes of utter destruction, they were for the most part totally unaware that a significant number of their persecutors had followed them to these shores. As many as 10,000 Nazis settled in the United States after World War II. Most Nazis lied about their past when they applied for and ultimately received U.S. citizenship. When it came to others such as Otto von Bolschwing and Arthur Rudolph, the American government simply preferred to look the other way.
Von Bolschwing, an associate of Adolf Eichmann who helped devise programs to persecute and terrorize Germany’s Jewish population, switched sides towards the end of the war and affiliated himself with the Allies. In 1949, the CIA — who knew about his Nazi party connections but possibly was unaware of his association with Eichmann — hired von Bolschwing and, in 1954, helped him immigrate to the United States, where he lived until his death in 1981.
During the Holocaust, Arthur Rudolph had served as operations director at the massive underground V-2 rocket manufacturing facility that was part of the Dora Nordhausen concentration camp complex. Nonetheless, because of his expertise, the U.S. government welcomed him to the United States and granted him citizenship. When Rudolph — who was considered the father of the Saturn V rocket that enabled the United States to make its first manned moon landing — retired from NASA in 1969, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Award, the agency’s highest honor. In 1984, after the details of his Nazi past were publicized, Rudolph gave up his citizenship and moved back to Germany.
We now know that not only did the American government turn a blind eye to the past crimes of some Nazis in the years immediately following the war, but even after they began to deport former Nazis in the 1980s they chose to broker deals with war criminals.
Last October, an investigative report by the Associated Press revealed that in numerous cases the Justice Department used a legal loophole to persuade Nazi suspects to leave the U.S. in exchange for Social Security benefits. If they agreed to go voluntarily, or simply fled the country before being deported, they could keep their benefits. Among the first to benefit from this deal was Arthur Rudolph.
After the uproar that followed the publication of that report, Congress passed and President Obama signed the “No Social Security for Nazis Act” which sought to end social security payments.
A report about to be released by the inspector general of the Social Security Administration and obtained in advance by the AP, has revealed that the amounts doled out by the SSA were far greater than earlier thought. As many as 133 suspected Nazi war criminals, SS guards, and others who may have participated in the Third Reich’s atrocities have received $20.2 million in Social Security benefits.
Though the inspector general’s report didn’t identify any Nazis by name, it is believed that among them is Elfriede Rinkel, a woman who admitted to being a guard at the Ravensbrueck concentration camp where she worked with an attack dog trained by the SS. That didn’t stop her from collecting nearly $120,000 in American Social Security benefits. Before she left the U.S. for Germany in 2006, Rinkel said she never told her husband of four decades — a German-born Jew whose parents had been killed in the Holocaust — about her past as a concentration camp guard.
Also among the 133 Nazis is Jakob Denzinger, who worked as a guard at five concentration camps including Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Denzinger, who left the U.S. in 1989 and now lives in Croatia, is believed to have received nearly $400,000 in Social Security until the payments were terminated in January when the new law went into effect.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) had requested the inspector general’s report after the Social Security Administration had refused a request by the AP for the breakdown of the amounts of money and number of former Nazis involved.
“We must continue working to remember the tragedy of the Holocaust and hold those responsible accountable,” Maloney said. “One way to do that is by providing as much information to the public as possible. This report hopefully provides some clarity.”
This report indeed provides some transparency about one shameful aspect of how America dealt with Holocaust-era war criminals. It will only increase speculation as to what other dark secrets are still to be found buried in the dusty archives of yesteryear.