John J. Loftus: REMEMBERING THE HOLOCAUST

 My name is John Loftus. It is
probably kind of silly to have an Irish-Catholic as president of the Holocaust Museum.[1]
A lot of us wonder why we even have a Holocaust Museum
for Jews. Every ethnic group has genocide. What was the largest number of
people killed? During the middle passage of slavery, tens of millions of Africans
died during the slave trade. What ethnic group had the highest percentage of
their people killed? It was not the Jews; it was the Armenians. One out of
every three Armenians in the world died in Turkish deportations in World War I.

 

 How about an Irish Museum?
The population of Ireland
went from eight million to five million. How about a museum for the Native
Americans? More than 700 tribes completely disappeared several centuries ago.
They were just murdered.

 

 The genocide against the Jews was terrible,
but more terrible than I realized. When I first became involved, I discovered
that there was something critically different from all the other genocides. Murder
was just a means to an end. Nobody wanted to kill all the Africans; they were
valuable property. Instead, they wanted to keep them as slaves. Even the Turks
did not want to kill all the Armenians; they just wanted the land back. People did
not want to murder the Native Americans; they just wanted to steal the land. They
wanted the Native Americans out of the way. But for the first time in the
history of man, someone said, “Let’s kill all the children.” The Holocaust was
the first time there was an organized government effort to systematically wipe
out an entire ethnic group. It was a crime so monstrous, it had never been
conceived before. Arguably, the Holocaust was the lowest point in human
history.

 

 I did not know much about the subject at all,
but I had a special interest, because, during the Carter and Reagan
administrations, I was a Nazi War Crimes Prosecutor.[2]
 To be honest, I joined because I thought
it would look good on my résumé, and I might get a free trip to Germany
out of it. But when I became involved, I had a most unusual assignment. They
sent me to work with the intelligence agencies. I received all these top secret
clearances to work with the Central Intelligence Agency and all the other
groups to see if I could find any clues to whether there could be Nazis in America.

 

 I never did get my free trip to Germany; instead, I got lots of free trips to Suitland, Maryland — a
nice little town right outside of Washington,
D.C.
That is where the United States
government buries its secrets — literally. There are twenty storage vaults underground.
Each vault is one acre in size. The last scene of the Raiders of the Lost Ark[3]
is what these underground vaults are really like — only not as organized as
they are in the movie. Quite by accident, I got lost and ended up down in the
nuclear warfare document storage vault. In the nuclear vault, I stumbled across
a group of Nazi files that neither I nor anyone else was supposed to see until
the year 2015. I discovered, much to my embarrassment, that many of the Nazis I
had been assigned to prosecute were already on the government payroll as part
of a Cold War spy operation that got all messed up. The British secret service
was supposed to be dumping freedom fighters in America to be trained and sent back
behind the Iron Curtain. Instead, the head of the British operation, a
Communist double agent named Kim Philby, was sending us war criminals instead
of anti-communist freedom

fighters.

 

 I received permission from
the Central Intelligence Agency to blow the whistle. In 1982 I appeared on 60
Minutes in a thirtyminute interview with Mike Wallace. It was the longest
episode he had ever done. When the episode about Nazis in America aired,
it caused a minor national uproar. Congress demanded hearings, Mike Wallace got
an Emmy Award, and my family got death threats. Ever since that 60 Minutes
show, I have become a lawyer who represents people in the United States
and in other governments who want to be whistleblowers. They want to bring up
some of the truth of what happened. When I was in the underground classified
vaults, I foundthat there were secret files on the Holocaust. Now, in the last
couple of years, the British government has started to release some of its files.

 

 During World War II, the Allies broke the Nazi
codes, which were called the “ultra secret.” After breaking the codes, the
Allies were able to read some of the secret intelligence. One of the first codes
they broke was for the Nazi Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing units that were
the first attempts of the SS at organized massacres of Jews. Every week the
British secret service would decode these Nazi documents and show them to
Winston Churchill. Churchill was amazed, but would not say anything. In fact,
as early as September 1941 the British government was getting accurate weekly
totals of the number of Jews being killed. Churchill was reading the orders to
kill the Jews sometimes before they were received in the field. The problem was
too much paperwork for the code breakers, so they sent a memo to Churchill that
said, “It is now clear beyond any doubt that the German police are killing
every Jew they can lay their hands on. Therefore, we won’t even bother reporting
on this issue in the future.” That memo was sent in October 1940, just after
the war had started, and the massive killing machinery was underway. British
policy was to say nothing about Jews being killed, because they did not want to
have Jews immigrating to Palestine.
It might have upset the Arabs or interfered with the oil supply.

 

 In 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt found
out about the secret codes, and he wrote the British, asking if they would join
him in a public appeal to Hitler to release the Jews from the concentration
camps. I will never forget the British response, “If we press Hitler too hard,
he might do it.” And where, the British wanted to know, would all the Jews go?
They could not get into Palestine.
President Roosevelt could not get a single Jew into America. Every nation in the world
had closed its gates to the Jews, so Roosevelt
cut a deal with the British. If Roosevelt would agree that the Jews would be
expendable to the war effort, then, in return, the British would agree to a Nuremberg trial to
prosecute the killers afterward. Think about the choices they made. As more and
more of these classified files come out, we are faced with the fact that people
like Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill might be accomplices to the
Holocaust, because they kept silent. At worst, they were lying to the American
public and saying there was no proof.

 

 A friend of mine in an intelligence agency
sent me a letter yesterday. He and his dad were assigned to the Vatican during World
War II. President Roosevelt had a special emissary there trying to get the Pope
to argue for the release of Jews. The State Department said we could pretend
the Holocaust was not happening. And they did pretend this killing was not
occurring. The indifference toward the treatment of the Jews went way, way
back, and this indifference was not just against the Jews. One of the first things
that Hitler did when he came to power was to sign a law that provided for the
killing of retarded beings, because he believed they were useless. The retarded
children were moved into sanitariums, and because sterilization was too
expensive, the Nazis simply gassed them. Word of this got out, and all the
churches in Germany,
both Protestant and Catholic, got together and put an end to the program. They
stopped the killing. What a choice that was. They stood up against the Nazis
and successfully stopped that program.

 

 Only a few months later, the people of Germany made
another choice. They turned away and pretended the mistreatment of the Jews was
not happening. The early mistreatment of Jews was a matter of world opinion. In
fact, everybody knew what was going on. In 1939 there was a headline in the Los
Angeles Examiner quoting Hitler as saying that he would kill the Jews if the
West would not accept them. But what were they not saying? It is very clear.
Why didn’t the United States
take the Jews in? We had plenty of room. There are about 5,000,000 Jews in America today,
which is the largest population in the world, even though they are only about three
percent of our population. Most Jews in the world are alive in America,
because we let them in around World War I. We gave them sanctuaries from the
persecutions going on in Russia.

 

 In your grandfathers’ times, when the Great
Depression hit in 1929, people did not want to compete with immigrants for
scarce jobs. As a result, they wanted to close the doors not only to Jewish immigration,
but most immigration for that matter. Congress refused to budge, and the last
bill to admit Jewish refugees died in a Senate Subcommittee in 1939. Even
though the war was going on, we still could have rescued the Jews. There was a
Polish underground, and the Jews asked the Polish people to send their
underground freedom fighters to liberate the concentration camps. The Polish
refused, because they did not want to get involved. Every time the Jewish issue
was raised, it was met with indifference. The Jews are not our people. The
choice was made to do nothing and was repeated over and over again.

 

 President Roosevelt, on the eve of the war,
called for an international conference to try to find a place of sanctuary for
the Jews. The Evian Conference found that there was only one country in the
world, a little Carribean nation, that would take the Jews, but only if a
substantial amount of money was paid. Everybody was willing to close their
eyes. Part of the problem was that it was hard for people to believe that the
most civilized nation in the world, Germany, was running around killing
babies. There was actually a Polish agent who came to Washington and told Supreme Court Justice
Felix Frankfurter what was going on. Justice Frankfurter is Jewish, too.
Justice Frankfurter turned to the agent and said, “I know that you believe you
are telling the truth, but I do not believe it.” It was hard for Americans to
accept. Although the president, the intelligence agencies, and the State
Department knew, the American public, by and large, did not know the full
extent of the violence. There were a few newspapers, like the Boston Globe,
that did a good job of reporting it. But most of the papers, like the New York
Times and even the St. Petersburg Times, buried the report of the Holocaust on
the back pages — if they mentioned it at all. There was a huge weight of
indifference.

 

 My friend Eli Weisel, who was a concentration
camp survivor and won the Nobel Prize, said there were three great evils in
this century — communism, fascism, and indifference — and indifference is the
deadliest of the three. That is easy to say. Think of all the choices that
people made. Even the Vatican
kept silent. All people had to do was to speak out. The Catholic Cardinal of Bulgaria
made the choice to speak out. The SS came to him in Bulgaria and said, “We want you to
round up the 3,000 Jews for deportation.” When the train arrived, out came
3,000 non-Jewish Bulgarians led by the Cardinal. The SS said, “Where are the
Jews?” The Cardinal said, “Jews are Bulgarians. You want Bulgarians, we are
Bulgarians. Take us.” The SS was so embarrassed that they pulled the train out.
There were 42,000 Jews in Bulgaria
at the beginning ofthe war, and there were 46,000 when the war ended. It was
one of the few nations that actively made a choice to help save people.

 

 In studying the Holocaust, we learn about the
choices we make. I had a similar choice when I was in those intelligence vaults
and saw all the records of Nazi recruitment by the Central Intelligence Agency
and other agencies. Quite frankly, I was told to keep quiet about this, not to
mention it. The choice I made was to quit the government, to leave my nice job
as a federal prosecutor, and sit down and write a book about what I had seen. I
saw something down in those vaults that would haunt me for the rest of my life.
When I was in the nuclear vaults, I stumbled across a diary stamped secret. It
was written by a Jewish man named Sol who lived in that borderland between Poland and Russia. Today, we call it Belarus, but in
the days before World War II, the Jewish people called it the Pale of
Settlement. For several hundred years, there was a seventy-five mile wide strip
of land between the borders where Jews were allowed to live. And you could go
from Vilna to Minsk to Baranovitche to Pinsk, all the way down to Romania. Some of these cities and
towns were ninety percent Jewish. The Pale was the most densely populated
Jewish settlement on the face of the earth. Unfortunately for the Jews, they
were right in the middle of Hitler’s invasion path for Russia. When
the German army came through, they did not have enough German soldiers to take
care of the huge Jewish population. Consequently, they asked the local, non-Jewish
citizens to serve as volunteers. People made choices.

 

 One of the volunteers in charge of Sol’s life
was Dr. Stankievich, an educated man and doctor of humanities. It was ironic
for the Jews, because they soon recognized Dr. Stankievich as the inventor of
the sardine method of execution. Dr. Stankievich would have his police force
and local collaborators round up the Jewish people and march them out to a road
where ditches had been dug on either side. At gunpoint, the Jews would be
forced to disrobe, climb in the ditches, and lay on top of each other head to
toe. Stankievich arranged them in this manner so he could shoot through a
double layer of bodies and save ammunition. A layer of dirt over the wounded, a
double layer of bodies, a layer of dirt, and so on. However, the worst thing
about the sardine method of execution was not discovered until after World War
II when American Red Cross doctors conducted autopsies on the graves. They
found no evidence of wounds on the smallest victims. Apparently, to save the
price of a bullet, Dr. Stankievich ordered that the babies be buried alive.

 

 As a reward for his efficiency, the SS
promoted Dr. Stankievich and made him the mayor of Baranovitche, the second
largest city in Belarus.
That is where Sol lived. On the day that Dr. Stankievich arrived, there were
50,000 Jews in the ghetto of the central part of the city where Jews were being
imprisoned. Six months later, there were only 5,000 Jews; the rest had been
killed. Six months after that, only 500 Jews were alive to work as skilled
laborers in Dr. Stankievich’s concentration camp. Sol lost his wife, his 3
kids, and all 110 members of his family. Think about that. Every relative, every
friend, every face he had known on earth had been murdered. This little Jewish
barber did an amazing thing. Sol dug a tunnel under the Nazi concentration camp
and led the last 126 Jews in a breakout. They made it to the swamps, as far as
the fields of Russia,
and joined up with other Jewish fugitives. They did not run away. Instead, they
made a choice. Hundreds of miles behind Nazi lines, this tiny group of young
Jews, some of them in their early twenties, organized into a partisan
resistance brigade, called the Bielski’s Brigade. They took up arms, went back,
and fought against the men who had murdered their families. The young women in
particular were so adept at blowing up railway lines that they crippled
Hitler’s supply trains to the Eastern Front.

 

 Dr. Stankievich put a price of 10,000 marks on
Sol’s head. Six of Belarus’s
SS police battalions were assigned to track down the Jewish Brigade. At the end
of World War II, Bielski’s Brigade was the most highly decorated partisan unit
on the entire Eastern Front. But there were only a few thousand survivors, and
Sol was one of them. Sol remarried a young woman whose life he had saved during
the breakout of the camp, and, by the end of the war, she was pregnant. Sol did
not want to have his child grow up under Communism, so he and his young bride
took up their rifles again, shot their way across the Russian border, and
escaped across central Europe to Italy. They then immigrated to the United States.

 

 When Sol got here, he did not put the past
behind him. He sat down and wrote his memoirs about what had happened to the 50,000
Jews from his little corner of the world who would never be able to speak for
themselves. Proudly, Sol took a copy of his manuscript to the United States
government. Someone, somewhere in our State Department, stamped Sol’s memoirs
secret and then hid them down in the nuclear vaults where I stumbled across
them four decades later. I knew within a little while what they were trying to
hide. One of their anti-Communist freedom fighters, who the British secret
service had recruited, was Dr. Stankievich. They asked our State Department to
hide him and we did. We brought Dr. Stankievich to New York and gave him a job as a broadcaster
at Radio Liberty. You have to remember it was the McCarthy era, and nobody
believed all the charges about war criminals in America. Dr. Stankievich told the
State Department that he could find more freedom fighters. By 1952 the record
showed Dr. Stankievich had relocated almost the entire Nazi government of Byelorussia to the little town of South River, New
Jersey
.

 

 I could not believe the intelligence file. I
actually had to go see for myself. I took a security detail, met with a local
informant provided by the New Jersey State Police, and went to visit South River, New
Jersey
. It is an amazing place with a private
cemetery for the Belarus SS. In the cemetery, there is a monument to the Nazi’s
president with his picture and title on it. Next to the local church is a
monument to their SS division. To make things worse, all this time Sol had been
living less than a half hour away. What a tragedy. Here is this heroic Jewish
man who fought against the Nazis and Communists and came to America to find
freedom, only to end up living in the shadow of the men who murdered his own kids.
What would you do?

 

 I knew it would be controversial, but I went
to the assistant attorney general of the United States and asked permission
to prosecute a British intelligence agent as a Nazi war criminal. I showed him
the Stankievich file and permission was granted. Secretly, I ordered all the United States
agencies to put a trace out for Sol as a key witness in the future trial of Dr.
Stankievich, but everyone reported back no trace. Sol was missing and, in view
of his age, had been presumed dead. It was terribly sad, but it did not stop my
trial preparations. I had my staff run every Nazi document in the world that
even mentioned Dr. Stankievich. It was an enormous research job, and Dr.
Stankievich was ungrateful enough to die two weeks before we could bring
charges against him. He died peacefully in bed, a citizen of the United States.
There was a big sigh of relief in the British Embassy. The British government
asked the American government to terminate further investigations of similar cases,
because it was much too embarrassing for the British to dig up all their old
Holocaust files. Better to let the Nazi’s die of old age. I was ordered, for
reasons of foreign policy, to stay out of the vaults and forget what I had
seen. But how? How do you forget about someone like Sol?

 

 I told the government that I would not
participate in the cover up, and I resigned from the United States Department
of Justice. I sat down and wrote the manuscript of my first book. I dedicated
the book to Sol, a Jewish man, who bore witness to the Holocaust, and to Meg,
my newborn, so that she may never have to witness such a tragedy. My family has
endured much criticism for the decision I made to keep fighting this battle,
but we received one good thing out of it. After the 60 Minutes show, I received
a telephone call. I was told the government had made a huge mistake. It was
Sol; he was still alive. My wife and I asked the old freedom fighter to keep
his identity a secret, because he was an old man entitled to his privacy. Sol
was still living less than a half hour away from the Nazi compound in South River, New
Jersey
. Apart from a few of my fellow prosecutors
back at the Department of Justice, no one in America
knew Sol, but they remembered him in Israel.

 

 Years ago, the Israeli Secret Service tracked
Sol down, and they flew him to Israel
for the dedication of the Yad Vashem, the Israeli Museum
of the Holocaust. Sol brought with him a picture that became part of the
museum’s collection. It is in our museum today, too. The photo, which shows a
couple of rows of young Jewish men and women standing in a forest with crossed
armbands full of ammunition and holding their rifles, is one of the most famous
photographs of the era. The picture is titled, “A Jewish Resistance.” Sol is in
the front row, second from the right. Quite a guy. He lived an exemplary life.

 

 I remember one day I was speaking to a group
of high school students up in New
Jersey
of all places, and Sol came along. He was sitting
in the audience. Nobody knew who he was. It was obvious from the questions I was
getting that most of these students were of Eastern European descent, and their
parents, church groups, and civic organizations had told them that the
Holocaust did not happen. They thought that Germans may have killed a few Jews,
but none of their people were involved — no Poles, no Ukrainians, no Russians.
I tried to tell the students that the SS kept meticulous records. The armies in
the Holocaust were not German, they were mostly local volunteers. They were men
who got a kilo of sugar for every Jewish person they shot trying to escape. Sol
told me the only German he ever saw was the commandant in his camp. Everyone else
was one of Stankievich’s local collaborators. I had all these documents, but
the students did not want to see documents. Some of their parents had been
there during World War II. They had not even been born then. They wanted a
witness. Suddenly Sol stood up in the audience and said, “Tell them. Tell them
who I am.” He was willing to sacrifice his anonymity, to risk his life again,
to bear witness to the truth. It was an act of incredible courage.

 

 I told my daughter Meg that there are still
heroes in this world, because her father had met one. Sol made a choice to
testify about the truth, and you have chosen to be here with us today. That is
a very positive choice. Yours is the last generation on earth that will ever
have the opportunity to meet with a Holocaust survivor. You are the hinge
generation. Whichever way you go, that is how history will record it. Teach
your children in the future that all of us, Jews, Gentiles, black, white, and
brown, can never afford to let genocide come back again. It will always come
back unless we work together to stop it. We have to make the right choices; we
cannot be indifferent. I know from your very presence here today that you are
people of courage, conscience, and commitment.

 

 

John J.
Loftus, 2000. President, Florida
Holocaust Museum
.
B.A., Boston College,
1971; M.P.A., Suffolk University, 1977; J.D., Suffolk University
Law School
,
1977. This speech, including the statistical and factual assertions, is derived
in large part from John Loftus & Mark Aarons, The Secret War against the
Jews: How Western Espionage Betrayed the Jewish People (St. Martin’s Press
1997).

Mr. Loftus
is an author, lecturer, and attorney. He authored The Belarus Secret (Knopf 1982)
and Valhalla’s Secret (A. Mthly. Press 1990),
and he co-authored Unholy Trinity: The Vatican, the Nazis, and the Swiss Banks
(St. Martin’s Press 1993) and The Secret War against the Jews: How Western
Espionage Betrayed the Jewish People (St. Martin’s Press 1995). In addition to
his literary accolades, Mr. Loftus has served as a Nazi War Crimes Prosecutor
and a consultant for 60 Minutes and Prime Time Live, and he currently operates
his own private practice, Loftus Law Offices, as well as Loftus Lectures.



[1] The Florida
Holocaust Museum,
located in St. Petersburg, Florida, is the fourth largest Holocaust
museum in the country. The purpose of the museum is to educate the public on
the devastation of the Holocaust, promote tolerance and respect, and honor the
millions who lost their lives in the Shoah. Fla. Holocaust
Museum
, General
Information <http://www.lholocaustmuseum.org/ourpurpose.htm> (accessed
Aug. 14, 2000).

[2] A war crimes prosecutor is responsible for the
investigation and prosecution of people responsible for serious violations of
international humanitarian law, namely breaches of the Geneva Convention of
August 12, 1949. Serious violations may include willful killing, torture, willfully
causing serious bodily injury or great suffering, and extensive, unjustified destruction
and appropriation of property.

[3] Raiders of the Lost Ark (Paramount Pictures
1981) (motion picture).


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