Seventy-five years ago, in Oct. 1940, the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, Poland was established, in what became the first of the major steps taken by the Nazis to strip Jews there of their possessions, movement, rights, and, eventually, their lives.
Roughly 360,000 Jews were squeezed into a three-mile area.
We know the rest of the story, what occurred to six million of our brethren throughout Europe, over the course of the next five years.
Unfortunately, much of what occurred post-war – an ongoing story that many don’t know, or fear telling – has still yet to be told.
For the past two decades, private investigator Steven Rambam has been asking: why haven’t tens of thousands of Nazi war criminals been captured, tried, and punished for their crimes?
Rather than sitting around waiting for an answer, he sought out living Nazis around the world, compiled information about them and confronted them, with the goal of having them prosecuted for their crimes.
Rambam is the founder and CEO of Pallorium Inc., a Midwood-based licensed Investigative Agency with offices and affiliates worldwide. He is perhaps best known for his pro bono activities, which have included the location and investigation of nearly 200 Nazi collaborators and war criminals in the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia.
Last Chance II
Contrary to popular belief, Nazi war criminals are still, to this day, being found, accused and charged with crimes they committed three-quarters of a century ago. The success of this effort, however, has been mixed and limited.
Many might recall that just a few months ago, Oskar Groening –
the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz” – was convicted of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, and handed a four-year prison term. Laszlo Csatary, at age 98, died last year in Budapest while awaiting trial for aiding the murder of 15,000 Jews from the ghetto in Kassa, in eastern Slovakia. Meanwhile, 94-year-old Michael Karkoc from Minnesota was tracked down, suspected of commanding a Nazi-led military unit responsible for the massacre of civilians.
This past summer, longtime Canadian resident Vladimir Katriuk, who was number two on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of most wanted Nazi war criminals, died at age 93. He was alleged to have participated in a village massacre in 1943 in what is now Belarus.
The Simon Weisenthal Center has announced “Last Chance II,” offering $30,000 – as opposed to the previous offer of $10,000 – for tips that help find Nazi war criminals.
In an exclusive interview with Community, Rambam reveals what has been done, what’s being done, and what could have been done, in the hunt for Nazi war criminals.
An investigator since 1981 who has closed nearly 15,000 cases, ranging from homicide and death claim investigations to missing persons cases, Rambam has also received a number of foreign military decorations, and his activities have been mentioned in the Canadian and Israeli Parliaments. He has also coordinated efforts to expose terrorist groups’ fundraising activities in the United States, and has conducted investigations which resulted in the tightening of airport security in eight American cities.
During the past 30 years, more than 1,000 newspapers and magazines have reported on his activities, and he has been interviewed by countless national and international television broadcasts.
CM:How and why did you begin hunting Nazis?
RAMBAM:I’d always been very aware of the issue. I had assisted some people in the past in locating witnesses in a Nazi hunting case. I started seriously in 1992, and had done dribs and drabs during the 10 years before.
I was working with a colleague in Canada doing security for a man who worked on this issue, when someone came up to me and handed me a list of about 85 Ukrainian Nazi collaborators – a horrific list, because of how each war criminal was described. Each had a little paragraph after the name, a capsule of what they did, and where they were in Canada, which was 90 percent accurate.
Third or fourth name on list had a name, in Montreal, “specialized in the murder of children.”
Being in the investigative and security industry, people hand me things all the time that are often false or even insane. I didn’t take the fellow seriously at first. I did a little investigation and found out it was all true.
I knew what the average person knows, or think they knew: that all war criminals were hunted down; the Mossad went after them, or the Simon Weisenthal group had been pursuing them relentlessly. I thought they knew about the ones who made it out and went to Paraguay and Brazil under assumed names. All of that is garbage. None of that is true. No governmental entity in Israel has pursued Nazis in more than a generation. Even that was an anomaly. The Simon Weisenthal Center has never hunted war criminals. People send checks every year thinking they do.
CM: Yes, but wasn’t Weisenthal a famous Nazi hunter?
RAMBAM:Yes, he was, but he had nothing to do with the center. They paid him to use his name. It’s not a Nazi-hunting organization, and they’ve never found one on their own. Nazi war criminals came to America, Canada, the UK and Australia mostly, and they had a 99.9 percent chance of dying in their bed. No prosecution, exposure, no so-called hunting. Hunting a Nazi war criminal means by any measurement gathering lists of them, interviewing them, building cases against them, and making sure they’re brought to prosecution and convicted and held to account for their sins.
The “Last Chance” stuff is a joke, an insult to six million dead Jews. When was Operation Next-to-Last Chance or Operation First or Second Chance?
CM: Walk me through the process of “hunting” a Nazi.
RAMBAM:I had worked with people in Canada, researchers in Israel and the US, and began compiling lists of war criminals.
At first, it took maybe 90 days to combine a list of more than a thousand war criminals suspected of residing in Canada.
Our office found hundreds in an afternoon, just using the
We winnowed it down to 200 criminals, still a mind-boggling number.
I established an undercover identity, knocked on doors and conducted what’s known as a pretext interview.
Most of the Nazis weren’t afraid, and only one wouldn’t talk to me. They were all conclusively identified and talked freely about what they did and whom they worked with. I did get them to confess to individual crimes.
I’m humiliated as a Jew to say, they were unafraid.
I interviewed a police chief from Lithuania, who had coordinated the murder of 5,000 Jews, old people and small children. Before he killed them he looted them, and locked them in stables with no food or water. He even took gold and jewels in exchange for water for a baby, then took them all to a ditch and shot them.
When I knocked on his door, and presented my cover story (of being a university student researcher), he let me in, gave me cake and schnapps.
I audio recorded the entire story.
It was my first interview, and I had to pause the investigation for a few days and mentally regroup.
CM: Is that mental strain typical?
RAMBAM:No, never. I’ve interviewed murderers, child molesters, rapists, and a lot of horrible people. This guy was just being casual about murdering and coordinating the murder of thousands of Jews – he and his wife.
I asked, “Didn’t anyone fight?”
His wife jumped in: “They were like lambs, like sheep.”
It made me nuts. It motivated me for years.
If you’re a decent person, you have to say someone has to speak for the murdered. You need to seek justice for them. For the next two years, I was obsessed. Every weekend I would leave wherever I was and fly in from Europe or Asia. I was doing interviews, sometimes two or three a day.
[Other investigators I knew of] joined with me doing interviews. I got them undercover IDs and passports, driver’s licenses, a college ID, pretending to work on a doctoral thesis.
CM: So you took the stories public, eventually, to Jewish organizations and the media. What was the reaction?
RAMBAM: I went on TV shows and played tapes… there was a big media buzz.
Jewish representatives refused to help. It made them look bad. So they condemned what I did. Concerned, correctly so. They knew about the problem, but sat on their hands.
Let’s imagine they had a legitimate reason for not wanting to work with me. Let’s say they didn’t like the ties I wore, whatever the reason. Okay. You have millions and millions of dollars, so why not hire your own investigators? I’m not the only good investigator in North America. There are hundreds of others to choose from, retired from the Mossad, and military intelligence from Israel, that they could hire.
Why not 20 years before me?
If someone had given me a budget, funded a research arm and an investigative team, I would have done nothing but this, for as long as they funded me.
I knew the venture would be mostly self-funded. Colleagues of mine, mostly non-Jews, donated time, resources, and sources.
I can tell you that everything I did in Canada alone over four years cost $264,000. For me, a fortune. For large Jewish organizations, pennies. If they had given one percent to me, I would have found them 20, 40, 100 more war criminals.
Frankly, every sizable synagogue is guilty of this… [People] believe that someone is out there bringing these guys to justice.
CM: Is it still worth it now, after all this time, to pursue justice?
RAMBAM:Yes, it is still worth pushing for justice. But we need to realize that not a single one will be brought to justice. They are all too…old, and we, to the great stain on our collective honor, allowed them to reach this point, where a first-year law student can stall sufficiently until after even the most heinous one is dead.
The bottom line, this has established the value of a Jewish life. If you are a Nazi criminal, you are able to come and live cheek to jowl with Jews from death camps, and their kids.
Surely, every night they went to bed laughing at the Jews. The vast majority of them were true believers. I interviewed one guy who had a picture of Hitler on his fridge. It landed on the front page of the Jerusalem Post. He posed with his rifle. No shame, no fear. He confessed, talked about chasing and shooting Jews. Authorities took away the rifle he posed with. Welcome to Canada, Australia, the US.
My question is: why didn’t the Jewish community do its job, get investigators, dossiers on these people, shove it down the throat of government, and chain themselves to offices?
Anyone with a shred of honesty will admit Jews are in the forefront of every cause – Black Panthers, lettuce pickers, women’s rights, for Trayvon Martin – but not Jewish causes. I’m not denigrating these movements, but how about spending
10 percent of your time on Jewish causes?
CM: How do you address people who talk about “opening all these old wounds”?
RAMBAM:If that’s the case, shame on them.
We’re talking about hunting people that killed hundreds of thousands of Jews. That wound needs to be reopened as often as you can. Bring them to justice and set an example.
If I’m going to say, “Don’t mess with” a certain people, it won’t be Jews.
You’ll hear, “These are old guys. Come on, you’ll charge, deport an 85-year-old guy”?
There’s no statute of limitations on murder. Ethically and morally, no statute. It’s not like we’re shooting an 85-year-old and shoving him in a ditch as he did to us. We want to bring them to justice.
If you’re worried if people will feel sorry for him, educate them. Tell them what a monster he is.
Imagine if 17 members of your family were murdered – wouldn’t you want the monster brought to justice?
CM: How did all of these Nazis escape so easily?
RAMBAM: The Nazi war criminals who came to North America were part of an organized group; they came en masse. If you look at their ship manifests, you will see members of the commando units coming with their families.
At the time, it wasn’t uncommon for immigration officials to ask immigrants if they were KGB agents, or Soviet infiltrators. A Nazi just had to roll up his sleeve and show his SS tattoo, tell them about killing communists, and the official would
These old men were collecting social insurance, living in nice homes, some profiting off stolen Jewish money.
CM: There’s an interesting story about Nazi Julius Viel, whom you caught.
RAMBAM: I went to the Canadian Jewish Congress in 1999 and they agreed to set up a phone line for tips, people willing to testify. It was actually called “1-800 Rat On a Nazi.” It was met with a lot of resistance. After the first week, CJC literally yanked the phone line out of the wall; it wouldn’t stop ringing.
But by that time I already had three cases.
Canadian professor Adalbert Lallier at Concordia in Montreal phoned in; highly respected, loved by his students. Also a second lieutenant in the SS. And he came and he met with me. I was sure I was being set up. At that point I had already received several hundred death threats. Everywhere I went I had security.
He was the real deal. He gave me a lot of evidence.
He told me he guarded the area around the Theresienstadt concentration camp, and had a commander named Julius Viel. He said Viel shot seven Jews in a ditch. Viel reported them to the Red Cross as heart attacks, the Red Cross accepted it, and that was it.
I did an investigation, and found Julius alive in Germany.
I took pictures of him, collected data, and met with the German prosecutor’s office. Viel was sentenced to 12 years in jail,
at age 83.
We also got the names of the Jews he killed, and were able to identify them. I can’t tell you how rare it is in the Shoah that
you can connect killers and victims by name. They’re almost
It’s not a source of pride. It’s a disgrace, heartbreaking, because for 55 years no one did this. I still don’t get it.
I want to tell you, every war criminal in this country could have been made to fear their future. Hundreds could have been deported. I found one Nazi who had a mezuzah on his door. The house is owned by a rabbi who lives downstairs. The Nazi was a lieutenant in the RS commando, in one of the battalions that wiped out tens of thousands of Jews. He lived without fear. The Jews would do nothing. The government didn’t understand, or care. It still doesn’t.
CM: What should we do now?
RAMBAM: Take names and phone numbers, organize,
There are terrifically accomplished people in your communities; you care about Jews, you want to help Jews. Take that feeling, help Jews.
You think there’s no evidence against these war criminals? Not true. I’ll show you the evidence. Yad Vashem has reams of it in their archives.
You have leaders, experienced people, and capable people. It’s not so hard to organize. Organize! Pick a couple of war criminals, make the government deport them, demonstrate in front of their homes, and speak to government representatives.
Anybody who will do the right thing, I’m happy to work
Today there’s another group of people organizing that want to kill Jews – Islamic extremists who wish you were all dead. They want to destroy Israel and harm the Jewish people. Anyone looking at these guys, gathering info? No. Anyone lobbying government, so they don’t stand by while genocide is being planned? No.
Let people know there’s a value to a Jewish life, because what every single one of those criminals knows is that Jewish life has no value. But when one Palestinian is shot in the leg, it lands on the front page of the papers.
This article was a compilation of two personal exclusive interviews
and a public lecture.