The fact that the United States government after World War II sought to take advantage of the expertise of German scientists, even those known to have contributed to the Nazi war effort, is well known and largely accepted as having been necessary for America’s national defense.

(Wernher von Braun is perhaps the most famous and comes immediately to mind. He pioneered the development of rocket technology for the Nazis and is credited with enabling the U.S. to more than hold its own against the Soviet Union in the field of missile development during the course of the Cold War.)

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However, a book out this week by New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, titled The Nazis Next Door, cites newly declassified records and documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests which reveal that in the years following the war, the CIA and other U.S. agencies hired approximately 1,000 Nazis – some hard-core and responsible for the murder of thousands of Jews – to be included in a pool of spies and informants as part of its Cold War arsenal and shielded them from prosecution by the Justice Department.

Governmental officials also actively sought to conceal the use of the Nazis for at least 50 years after the war.

It appears that some of the spies had been key officials of the Nazi apparatus. One was a top aide to Adolf Eichmann who in 1937 recommended a way to rid Germany of its Jews:

The Jews in the entire world represent a nation which is not bound by a country or a people but by money. Purge Germany of the Jews…take away the sense of security from the Jews. Even though this is an illegal method, it has had a long-lasting effect…. The Jew has learned a lot through the pogroms of the past centuries and fears nothing as much as a hostile atmosphere which can go spontaneously against him at any time.

Another was described in CIA files as having had a role in the machine-gun massacres of 60,000 Jews in Lithuania and worked “under the control of the Gestapo during the war.” Not only was he employed by the CIA, the agency falsely told prosecutors who were pursuing him as an important Nazi collaborator that “There is no evidence that this Agency was aware of his wartime activities.”

And so it went. It is not all that clear what special expertise particular Nazis had that commended then to US officials. Nor was there any apparent pattern to the tasks they were given. Some were assigned to hazardous tasks and some to rather trivial undertakings.

This is a story that will unfold as the book hits the market. And while we are not unmindful of the rather frantic (and not unjustified) mentality in this country at the outset of the Cold War, we hope Americans will make a sober judgment about the morality of granting wholesale immunity to war criminals on the vague prospect that they might contribute to U.S. national security interests.

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