A recent investigation by the Associated Press has uncovered a shocking loophole that millions of dollars of retirement benefits of non-U.S.-citizens were funded, and are still being funded, at the expense of American taxpayers. The results of the investigation were gained through more than two years of interviews and research and analysis of government records through the Freedom of Information Act.
The AP investigation revealed that since the 1970s, at least 38 of 66 suspects removed from the country for being former Nazi war criminals kept their Social Security benefits. There are at least four beneficiaries still living and receiving benefits. The loophole gave the Justice Department authority to give Nazis the option to leave the US or be deported. If they left on their own, they could keep Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration “refused the AP’s request for the total number of Nazi suspects who received benefits and the dollar amounts of those payments.” The Justice Department denied using Social Security payments as incentives for suspects to leave on their own. However, records show that the State Department and Social Security Administration articulated their concerns with this tactic. During the course of the investigation, the AP found that by March 1999, 28 Nazi criminals had collected $1.5 million in Social Security payments after leaving the U.S. and revoking citizenship.
U.S. Rep Carolyn Maloney of New York, senior Democratic member of the House of Oversight and Government Reform Committee commented on the results of the investigation: “It’s absolutely outrageous that Nazi war criminals are continuing to receive Social Security benefits when they have been outlawed from our country for many, many, many years.” Maloney plans to introduce legislation to close the loophole.
Former Office of Special Investigations Director Neal Sher said the State Department put a higher priority on diplomatic niceties than holding former members of Hitler’s war machine accountable. “The state always wraps itself in the flag. Unfortunately, it’s not the American flag.”
The AP estimates the amount paid out to Nazi criminals in the thirty years since they first signed agreements to leave while keeping Social Security benefits has reached the millions. A memo by State Department officials from 1984 was found detailing how the deals were made. To get criminals to leave quietly, the OSI delayed action and would “refrain from seeking in any way to limit the subject’s receipt of U.S. Social Security benefits.”
A second memo uncovered by the AP was apparently written in response to State Department objections to then Secretary of State George Schultz. This memo discussed how the OSI concocted a “new scheme” due to the resistance from other countries in wanting to take in Nazi criminals. Senior State Department officials said these difficulties “have led OSI to resort to bargains with Nazi persecutors which permit their voluntary departure from the U.S.”
One such deal was made with former SS guard of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, Martin Bartesch. Bartesch signed the agreement with the U.S., flew unannounced to Vienna, and revoked his U.S. citizenship. Austria was not happy. Since Bartesch had revoked U.S. citizenship, he was now their problem. Attorney General Edwin Meese was forced to apologize to Austrian Interior Minister and assure him no more Nazi criminals would be sent unannounced. Bartesch received Social Security benefits until he died in 1989. This man was noted in Nazi records as having shot and killed a French Jew at Mauthausen in 1945, where a total of 95,000 people were killed by gassings, firing squads, and starvation.
Arthur Rudolph‘s agreement caused another diplomatic stir in West Germany when he too signed the agreement, flew to Europe, and revoked citizenship. Rudolph was brought to the U.S. after the war because of his technical genius. He was a rocket scientist and played a central part in the Apollo project that put Neil Armstrong on the moon. Rudolph had worked in a Nazi factory during WWII, building the V-2 rocket and subsequently “working thousands of slave laborers to death.”
John Callahan, the acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration during the Clinton presidency, wrote a memo to Clinton’s domestic policy chief regarding the matter in April 1997:
“Social Security benefits cannot, and should not, be used as a bargaining tool.”
Top deputy in the Domestic Policy Office at the time, Elena Kagan, who is now a Supreme Court Justice, ignored Callahan’s statement, writing in the margin of the memo that
“this is a pretty snotty letter.”
Though officials say they had no way of knowing when these men immigrated that they were war criminals, the AP found documents that show some did tell authorities on their immigration applications about their service in the SS and as camp guards.
One such war criminal, Jakob Denzinger, is still receiving around $1500 per month in U.S. Social Security benefits even though he now lives in Europe and according to the terms of the agreement, revoked his citizenship about thirty years ago. Denzinger would not comment on his situation. He is living in a comfortable apartment on the Drava River, with a live-in helper to care for him. His monthly U.S. Social Security benefits are double what the average Croatian worker takes home in income.
His son Thomas still lives here in the U.S. and talked to AP investigators, confirming that his father still receives Social Security payments. Thomas Denzinger had this to say about the situation:
“He’s made a new life for himself over there. But he’s angry. He claims he was drafted into the army and he did as he was told. You do as you are told or they line you up against a wall and shoot you. You don’t have any choice.”
Isn’t that a choice in itself? Choosing to do nothing, to look the other way and not stand up to a corrupt government. That is making a choice. How much different would things have been if all those people who disagreed with the genocide deep down had stood up and said no, though it meant death? The Holocaust may never have happened. Whether he did as he was told and lived or stood up for what was right and said no, he still made a choice, the choice to live one more day though thousands of others die.