U.S. must tell whole truth about safe haven for Nazis
By Abraham Cooper
Of all of the important Holocaust-era artifacts at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, few are as meaningful as the first American flag to fly over the liberated Mauthausen concentration camp in May 1945.
Secretly hand-sewn by the emaciated and dehumanized inmates, it had 13 stripes and 56 stars. None of the inmates - who would have been executed had the flag been discovered by their Nazi tormentors - could recall how many states there were. The flag was presented to the U.S. Army's Col. Richard R. Seibel of the 11th Armored Division, who would serve as the first commandant of the liberated death factory. He quickly raised that flag above the gates of hell - replacing the hated Nazi swastika.
Wiesenthal was one of the prisoners liberated by U.S. troops on May 5. "America for us was a symbol for all we had lost"; the former prisoner and future Nazi hunter often told us. "I barely weighed 90 pounds that day, and like so many others, I was too weak to walk. But seeing the American flag rekindled something in each of us. Every star on the American flag stood for something precious we had lost: One for hope, one for freedom, one for justice."
Now the media has now provided details of a long-delayed release of a 600-page U.S. Department of Justice report that covers both the government's Nazi hunting activities that continues until this day and how America's intelligence officials provided safe haven for Nazi war criminals and their collaborators during the Cold War.
The report apparently includes details surrounding the CIA's hiring of and providing safe haven for Adolph Eichmann's top aide, Otto Von Bolschwing, who helped draft the plans to "purge Germany of the Jews." He died in a Sacramento nursing home in 1981, before we could bring him before the bar of justice.
The Justice Department study also examined the father of our nation's Saturn V program, Arthur Rudolph, who, even as he was being honored by NASA for his scientific achievements, was revealed as having built his World War II-era successes on the blood, sweat, tears, and bodies of slave laborers at the Mittelwerk facilities.
There is also information about the posthumous investigation of Dr. Josef Mengele, infamous "Angel of Death" at Auschwitz, who died in Brazil in the 1980s. There are important details about the long struggle to bring John Demjanjuk to justice. One can suppose the case of Klaus Barbie, the "Butcher of Lyon" who was hired by U.S. intelligence after the war, even as our ally France was hunting for him, is also discussed.
Still, it is almost beyond belief that in 2010, we are left using words like "apparently," "supposedly" and "reportedly," about decisions our government made about Nazi war criminals over 50 years ago. Why? Because, four years after it was written, it is said that the 600-page opus contains uncorrected factual errors and omissions.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, along with historians and scholars, are calling on President Obama, who has promised that transparency would be the hallmark of his administration, to instruct Attorney General Eric Holder to release the entire report along with all supporting documentation, uncensored.
It's been a quarter of a century since Richard Seibel entrusted our Center with the American `Mauthausen' flag. It is now too fragile to use at Holocaust commemorations or deploy on Veterans Day.
But America will live up to the meaning behind each of those fading 56 stars, if we have the courage to tell the truth - the whole truth. Those heroic concentration camp flagmakers and all victims of the Holocaust are owed no less.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.