Nazi Hunter Speaks at USC Law



Tuesday, Oct 4, 2011

Eli Rosenbaum has spent his 26-year career at the DOJ

-By Gilien Silsby

Left To Right: Jennifer Ehrlich, Hannah Garry, Eli Rosenbaum, Thomas Blatt, John Flynn, Blanca Hernandez

As director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy in the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, Eli Rosenbaum has dedicated his career to pursuing Nazi war criminals and other violators of human rights living and hiding in the United States.

At a special appearance at USC Law, Rosenbaum shared stories of his investigations into some of the world’s most notorious war criminals and genocidaries.

The event, which drew a packed audience of more than 150 people, was sponsored by USC Law’s International Human Rights Clinic, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute and the USC International Law and Relations Organization.

Rosenbaum estimates he has participated in the prosecution of more than 70 Nazi war criminals and other human rights violators in his 26 years with the Department of Justice. As he showed a series of slides of Nazi perpetrators and modern-day war criminals, he described how many were living out the American dream. They came from all walks of life, including a housewife in New York, a tailor in Massachusetts, a retired autoworker in Ohio and a businessman living in a beachfront property in Southern California.

Following World War II, Nazis living in the United States were not systematically sought by the U.S. Government, said Rosenbaum. The first, major coordinated effort didn’t come until the late 1970s when legal actions were launched against individuals such as Croatian Nazi leader Andrija Artukovic, who was found in Seal Beach, California. He was extradited to Yugoslavia in 1986 and convicted there of multiple murders.

“Allied enthusiasm for pursuing justice on behalf of the victims of Axis crimes against humanity waned quickly after the war and essentially evaporated within three years,” said Rosenbaum. “At least hundreds of Nazi collaborators came to the United States after immigration to the United States from Europe restarted after 1948.”

It is estimated that Nazi perpetrators successfully prosecuted by Rosenbaum’s office shared responsibility for approximately 2 million of the 6 million murders of Jewish people. Although the majority of the World War II-era criminals have died, “the ones who are alive are being pursued by the Department of Justice,” Rosenbaum said.

Rosenbaum’s most famous case was that of John Demjanjuk, who immigrated to the United States in the 1950s, and was living as a retired autoworker in Ohio.  Rosenbaum and his team deported him to Germany. He was found guilty there in May of this year of serving as an accessory in the murders of 28,000 people while working as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.

Thomas Blatt, one of fewer than 100 inmates to have survived Sobibor, made a surprise appearance at the USC Law talk, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. Blatt was one of just two survivors who testified at Demjanjuk’s trial.

“We were deeply honored by Mr. Rosenbaum and Mr. Blatt’s presence at USC Law, both of whom are heroic figures in the struggle to give teeth to the phrase ‘never again,” said Prof. Hannah Garry, director of USC Law’s International Human Rights Clinic and moderator of the event.

Last year, Rosenbaum’s former unit, the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) merged with another human-rights enforcement unit, the Domestic Security Section. Both offices had been actively pursuing human rights criminals from more recent conflicts, such as those in Rwanda and Bosnia.

Modern-day war criminals that Rosenbaum has investigated include Gilberto Jordan, who was successfully prosecuted in Florida last year on the basis of his participation in the 1982 massacre of the villagers of Dos Erres, Guatemala, a crime that was perpetrated by his notorious paramilitary unit.  Jordan admitted that he personally threw a baby to its death down a deep, dry well in the village.

The Nazi cases have paved the way for these new ones, Rosenbaum said.  “All of these cases, combined with the ones tried before international tribunals and national courts in foreign countries, send a crucial and powerful message to would-be future perpetrators of crimes against humanity -- namely, that anyone who dares to take part in such heinous crimes can reasonably expect to be pursued by law enforcement for however long it takes to bring him or her to the bar of justice.”  

Rosenbaum also expressed deep appreciation for what he termed the “fabulous and hugely important” work of USC Law’s International Human Rights Clinic. “By working on cases before international tribunals trying perpetrators of mass atrocities in Rwanda and Cambodia, law students join Mr. Rosenbaum, Mr. Blatt and countless others in the critical fight to end impunity for such crimes,” Garry said.