Pat Buchanan and the Emigre Nazis

By Lagnado, Lucette | The Nation, May 4, 1985 | Go to article overview

Pat Buchanan and the Emigre Nazis


Lagnado, Lucette, The Nation


When the White House announced that on his visit to West Germany next month President Reagan would lay a wreath on the grave of a German soldier killed in World War II, Jewish and veterans groups were outraged. A hasty decision to include a concentration camp on his itinerary after all did not placate them. Washington commentators declared that the President had committed a major public relations blunder. But the President isn't the only one in the Administration who has shown insensitivity to the memory of the Holocaust. His communications director, Patrick Buchanan, is under fire for his strident campaign, while a newspaper columnist, against the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, which tracks down Nazi war criminals in the United States.

In 1982, appearing on the Washington television talk show After Hours, Buchanan called for the O.S.I.'s abolition and asked what the purpose was of "going after people who are about 70 years old now" and whose crimes were committed "thirty-five, forty-five years ago." More recently, his ire has been focused on O.S.I. denaturalization actions against Eastern European immigrants. These "staunch anti-communist emigres," he contends, are being deprived of their citizenship on the basis of dubious evidence obtained from the Soviet Union.

In a syndicated column published this past February, Buchanan called the O.S.I. the "dim-witted instrument" of the Soviet K.G.B. and stated that "in its zealotry to punish naturalized Americans who collaborated in the Holocaust, forty years ago," the office "is relying upon 'evidence' produced by the secret police of a neo-Stalinist state."

In another column, written the previous December, he championed John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian immigrant who was stripped of his citizenship by a Federal judge in 1981, after a long trial. O.S.I. lawyers presented voluminous evidence, including a Nazi identification card, establishing that Demjanjuk had served as a guard at the Treblinka death camp in Poland, where he operated the gas chamber and was known to inmates as "Ivan the Terrible." Buchanan wrote that if the charges were true, Demjanjuk had deserved deportation, but he claimed that a "horrible miscarriage of justice" had been committed because the Treblinka identification card was a K.G.B. forgery.

In a letter to The Washington Times, where Buchanan's column regularly appeared, Stephen Trott, head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, of which the O.S.I. is a part, defended the use of Soviet evidence, saying it had been tested under American rules. He pointed out that the O.S.I. had not relied solely on Soviet archives: "The critical evidence placing Demjanjuk at Treblinka came from five surviving witnesses of the camp who now live in Israel. . . . The credibility of these witnesses has already been tested under our rules of evidence and procedure." (The government of Israel has been granted its request to extradite Demjanjuk for trial as a war criminal. …

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