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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


January 16, 2015  RSS feed
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Long-time Nazi hunter to speak, receive award, at To Life event

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Eli Rosenbaum, U.S. Justice Department, director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy Eli Rosenbaum, U.S. Justice Department, director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy When Eli Rosenbaum graduated from law school there were two jobs he really wanted – to hunt Nazi war criminals for the U.S. Justice Department and one other dream job.

“The job with the Yankees did not happen. No bat. And no arm,” he deadpanned. However, he has been an all-star Nazi hunter for the Justice Department for more than 30 years.

The Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg will honor Rosenbaum with its prestigious Loebenberg Humanitarian Award during its annual “To Life” event Thursday evening, Feb. 26. at the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg.

He will be keynote speaker for the event and talk about the work he has done in tracking down Nazi war criminals in America, including details of cases in the Tampa Bay area.

This year’s theme will be “To Life: To Justice.”

Dr. Zena Lansky and Warren Rodgers are chairing the Florida Holocaust Museum’s annual dinner on Feb. 26. Dr. Zena Lansky and Warren Rodgers are chairing the Florida Holocaust Museum’s annual dinner on Feb. 26. Museum Executive Director Elizabeth Gelman says Rosenbaum “has dedicated his career to seeing that Nazi war criminals are not allowed to remain in the United States.”

Rosenbaum, 59, is the longest serving prosecutor and investigator of Nazi war criminals in history.

A Harvard Law School graduate, he went to work hunting Nazis in 1979 and he served from 1994-2001 as director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI), which was primarily responsible for finding and deporting Nazi war criminals. He also obtained historical and remunerative justice from European governments on behalf of Holocaust victims and survivors.

He directed the investigation that resulted in worldwide exposure of the Nazi past of former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim in 1986. Rosenbaum was loosely depicted in Jodi Picoult’s 2013 novel, The Storyteller and was praised by Picoult as a “modern-day superhero.”

British historian Guy Walters has termed Rosenbaum “the world’s most successful Nazi hunter.”

When OSI was merged into the new Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section of the Justice Department, he became director of its Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy and serves in that position today.

As the number of Nazi war criminals has declined, his office now pursues war criminals from Bosnia, Guatemala and Rawanda, but Rosenbaum says his office still pursues Nazis as well.

“We still have a number of people under investigation for World War II Nazi crimes,” he said in an interview with the Jewish Press.

He said there is an active case in which his office has prosecuted Jakiw Palij, a man living in New York City. Rosenbaum said Palij was an armed SS guard in a camp that was “a school for mass murder” in Nazi-occupied Poland. The camp also kept Jewish slave laborers and Palij kept them from escaping, he said. Rosenbaum said Palij was successfully prosecuted, his American citizenship was stripped and a deportation order was issued, but he remains in New York because so far Rosenbaum has not found a nation who will take him.

Rosenbaum’s desire to track down Nazis stems from several childhood experiences, he said. “I grew up in a house where the Holocaust was not discussed. I happened on an NBC dramatization of the Nurenberg trials and I was shocked,” he said.

He also told a story of a drive with his father through a blinding snowstorm when he was 14 years old. They chatted along the drive, and his father, who fought as an American soldier in World War II, was telling war stories. They were funny tales of things he and his fellow soldiers did. “Then my dad got serious and said, ‘You know, I was at Dachau the day after its liberation.’” Another Army unit had found the concentration camp and Rosenbaum’s dad was sent in a Jeep with another soldier to inspect and report back to their commander on what they found.

“ I asked what he saw, and for the longest time, I did not hear anything from my father. Then I looked at him and I saw his eyes were welled up with tears and he could not speak. It was the first time I ever saw him cry,” Rosenbaum said.

Though that experience and the stories and books he read about the Holocaust made strong impressions on him, Rosenbaum happened into the role of Nazi hunter by chance, he said. In the fall of 1978 he attended a wedding in Philadelphia and came across a blurb in the local Jewish paper, the Jewish Exponent, that said the federal government was forming a unit to track and deport Nazi war criminals in America.

Rosenbaum said he drove home from the wedding and immediately inquired about getting an internship to work for the new unit. “I got the internship and was moved by the people working there and their dedication to the job,” he said. Even back then, he said, there was a sense of urgency in tracking down Nazis, as years had passed since the war. “We were told to work as fast as we responsibly could,” he said, adding that the agency “did not cut corners,” but knew time was not on their side of tracking down Nazis who were hiding their past lives.

Later, he went to work for the agency full time.

“This work is endlessly frustrating, but it has been the greatest privilege of my professional life to pursue these cases and secure a measure of justice for those who perished and those who survived,” Rosenbaum said.

He credited his colleagues for their work and said that from 1990 to 2010, “ our program has succeeded in prosecuting and winning more cases than all the other nations in the world put together. That is a tribute to the tenacity of the people I have gotten to work with.”

He added that contrary to Hollywood movies, most war criminals did not flee to the Americas, but remained in Europe and often were not prosecuted. A 1998 Los Angeles Times story Rosenbaum supplied to the Jewish Press listed six men accused of Nazi war crimes that were tracked down in the U.S. All were native Lithuanians. Two were found living in St. Petersburg and two in Gulfport. One was deported, four returned to Lithuania rather than fight deportation and one left voluntarily as the U.S. was seeking to revoke his citizenship. The story noted that once they returned to Lithuania, none was charged or brought to trial, despite strong evidence uncovered by the Justice Department.

Those six cases do not include one of the first prosecuted by Rosenbaum, that of Jurgis Juodis, a Lithuanian who had moved to St. Pete Beach. Rosenblum said Juodis was accused of being an officer in a German-led Lithuanian police unit accused of killing Jewish civilians in the war. The unit killed some 50,000 Jews and communists, including children, in what today is Belarus, Rosenbaum said, adding, “He died before we could go to trial.”

He criticized European nations for failure to vigorously pursue the war criminals and for often refusing to allow the return of Nazi war criminals his office tracked down, prosecuted and won rulings for deportation. “We can’t get Europe to do its moral duty in these cases,” he said.

Rosenbaum said he has met Florida Holocaust Museum founder Walter Loebenberg and will be honored to receive the award named after him and his late wife, Edie.

The chairs of the “To Life” event are Dr. Zena Lansky and Warren Rodgers.

Tickets for the “To Life” event are $200 per person and sponsorships are available. There will be cocktails and dinner by the bite with complimentary valet or selfparking in the Mahaffey garage. Dress is business attire. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the program begins at 7:30 p.m.

For more information, call Lenora Walters at (727) 820-0100, ext. 251 or at or visit FLHolocaust- to purchase tickets online. The Mahaffey Theater is at 400 First St. S. in St. Petersburg.

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