I just finished reading a most disturbing book. As a boy hiding from the Nazis throughout World War II, I dreamed of a country where people were decent and free, and whose sons were fighting to defeat our oppressors. To me, the United States was “the shining city on the hill.” Of course, as an adult, I learned that my adopted country wasn’t perfect. I found out about its history of slavery and racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, imprisonment of Japanese-Americans. But I wasn’t ready for this bombshell: following World War II, the U.S. became a refuge for Nazi war criminals, some of whom were responsible (though perhaps indirectly) for the murders of twenty-five members of my family.
I knew about a few high-level Nazis who came to America, such as Wernher von Braun, but I had been under the impression that their numbers were small, and that they were the “better” Nazis. After reading Eric Lichtblau’s excellent book, THE NAZIS NEXT DOOR: HOW AMERICA BECAME A SAFE HAVEN FOR HITLER’S MEN, I find that I was wrong. There were thousands of them–and they weren’t just the “better” ones. Many were murderers: high-level SS officers responsible for carrying out the Holocaust, concentration camp commanders and guards, rocket scientists who worked thousands of slave workers to death.
How did this happen? As soon as the war ended, the US government wiped its collective memory clean of German atrocities and turned its attention to its new enemy–the Soviet Union. Almost overnight, anyone who was opposed to Communism was America’s friend. And no one was more anti-Communist than the Nazis. The CIA, the military, and the FBI employed Hitler’s murderers as spies. Other government agencies employed German scientists and engineers. Records of atrocities committed by these new American citizens were whitewashed, and they settled quietly into lives as good neighbors and ordinary folks throughout the country.
The author exposes this ugly piece of history based on exhaustive research, examination of documents released only recently, and interviews with a small group of Nazi hunters in our Department of Justice, who worked tirelessly to bring the most notorious of the Nazis to justice and to strip them of their American citizenship. A disturbing–yet excellent–book written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer is a must read for everyone interested in contemporary American history: the good, the bad, and the ugly.