After World War II, why did the United States admit many high-level ex-Nazis for a variety of purposes (the space program, anti-Soviet espionage) but relentlessly pursue prison guard John Demjanjuk?
Rashke (Trust Me, 2001, etc.) follows the bizarre, jagged trajectory of the various trials of Demjanjuk, a retired autoworker from Cleveland whose tangled experiences in the war sent him from courtrooms and jails in Ohio to Tel Aviv to Munich, sites where he was variously accused of being the heinous Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka (a charge ultimately dropped) to serving as a guard at the Sobibor death camp, a charge of which he was ultimately convicted when he was 90 and dying. But Rashke, whose research is prodigious, has a much busier agenda than just the Demjanjuk case. He also describes the numerous other cases of ex-Nazis brought to America, many quietly under the aegis of the FBI, the State Department or the CIA, war criminals (in many cases) who escaped prosecution because of their usefulness in the U.S. Some were high profile (rocket scientist Werner von Braun at NASA); others flew totally below the radar until Soviet and American archives opened decades later. Throughout, Rashke raises moral questions (is it conscionable to employ ex-Nazis?) and draws distinctions (what’s the difference between working for and working with an occupying force?). His accounts of Demjanjuk’s various legal proceedings are swift but also enriched by much relevant quoted testimony. The author also explores the profound passions of all involved—from the families of those whose relatives suffered and died in the camps to the Demjanjuk family and their Ukrainian-American neighbors who never believed the accusations.
A richly researched, gripping narrative about war, suffering, survival, corruption, injustice and morality.