The Holocaust Historiography Project

Book review

Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals In America

  • by Alan A. Ryan, Jr. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich, 1984, 386pp, $15.95, ISBN 0-15-175823-9.

reviewed by Ted O’Keefe

It’s been six years since the Office of Special Investigations was established in the Justice Department to gather up the few loose ends remaining after Operation Keelhaul and similar actions in 1945, when the United States, Britain, and France rounded up millions of hapless refugees from the Soviet empire and its satrapies to send them back to be hanged, shot, or worked to death in the archipelago of the Gulag. Alan Ryan, who headed the OSI for three years, has written this book to justify his and his office’s part in one of the most serious abuses of American justice in this century, by which hundreds of immigrants who have lived blameless and productive lives in their adopted country are to be stripped of their rights and dragged off to show trials and certain death in Israel and the USSR.

Despite exterminationist supermaven Raul Hilberg’s characterization of Ryan as “an outstanding lawyer with the mind of a philosopher,” by the evidence of Quiet Neighbors Ryan is a prosecutorial shyster whose mind is nimble and devious enough to carry out the duties his masters (don’t worry, he tells us who they are) have entrusted him, but is clearly overtaxed at the writing of a brief for the prosecution both coherent and discreet.

Ryan’s legal training was evidently good enough to land him a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White, but his style of writing and the quality of his reasoning supply yet another instance of why those vocations once known as “the learned professions” are now called simply “the professions.” A Yuppie-type who knows how to pander to the left-liberal galleries by adducing the well-cropped lawns and law-abiding habits of his prey as further grounds for suspecting them, Ryan is a master of the wrong word and the botched historical reference. For him, trials “appear and fade away like astronomical phenoma"; for the OSI the prolonged round of hearings and appeals necessary to dispatch its victims is a “lugubrious process,” Ryan assures us that the Croats are Teutonic, and at one point informs us that the Sicherheitsdienst of the SS was commanded by Reinhold Heydrich.

Nevertheless, these are almost minor peccadilloes in the context of the grotesque and willful travesty of history Ryan serves up in Quiet Neighbors. Not surprisingly, his attempts at a history of the “Holocaust,” the flight of the alleged war criminals to America, and the rise of the OSI are encysted between an “indictment” (of America) and a “verdict” (guilty as charged), clothed as a lengthy brief for the prosecution.

Ryan begins his story with an account of the DP's, or displaced persons, in which he manages to write an entire chapter about the post-war fate of the refugees and concentration-camp survivors from Eastern and Central Europe without once mentioning the forced “repatriation” of millions of them to the USSR. To the flight of hundreds of thousands of Jews to Palestine, which was represented by Zionist organizers and propagandists of the day as European Jewry’s sole salvation, Ryan devotes half a line; for he has a different ax to grind. In the face of nine-tenths of the historical evidence, as well as all probability, he claims that Jewish DP’s were second-class citizens, discriminated against in favor of Balts, Ukrainians, and ethnic Germans. Deftly picking and choosing among such evidence as seems to serve his case-the biased reports of Jewish officials seeking to obtain even further favoritism for the Jews who were moving by the hundreds of thousands into the American-occupied zone of Germany-the author waves away the rigid standards laid down against considering Germans and their “collaborators” as displaced persons, and implies, without actually saying so (for he knows better), that the number of Jews whoXcame to America under the several special immigration laws passed after the war, was less than that justified by their numbers in the DP centers.

Ryan says nothing of the intense pressure which was being generated by Zionists at the time, pressure directed against the migration of Jews to America and their remaining in Europe as well as in favor of their admission to Palestine. If Dorothy Thompson, for most of her career as relentlessly a pro-Jewish publicist as was to be found in the morass of American journalism of her day, were still among the living, she could enlighten Mr. Ryan on this matter with not a little poignancy, for that erstwhile “righteous Gentile” was ruined by her pleas not only on behalf of the Arabs of Palestine, but by her “powerful plea … made to the United Nations to open the allied countries to the displaced European Jews. There are Zionists, however,” she continued, “who did not like that column. They don’t want any alternative except Palestine …” (Connoisseurs of the swift rises and precipitous declines in the fortunes of public men and women, as well as of the fine line which separates a Just Goy from just a goy, are advised to consult Marion K. Sanders’s Dorothy Thompson: A Legend in Her Time).

Ryan’s efforts to stir up sympathy for the Jews of post-war Europe are at the expense of the various peoples of Eastern Europe, for none of whom he seems to have any compassion. Despite a few transparent efforts to assure the reader of his fair-mindedness, Ryan generally sees Balts and Ukrainians, in particular, as anti-Semitic and-vitiated by treason against the Soviet Union and collaboration with the invading Germans. For him, the issues of the war in the East were clearcut: the Germans were conquerors and enslavers, the Soviets were liberators. He chafes at the vestigial attempts of the U.S. State Department to refrain from diplomatic acquiescence in the Soviet annexation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which to him merely obstruct the condign justice to be meted out to traitors and “war criminals.” He continually falls into locations such as “the despised Ukrainians” and approvingly cites such references as “the notorious Nazi Fifth Column” (referring to the ethnic Germans of Central and Eastern Europe).

Ryan’s disdain for the complex lot of the peoples of the vast belt between Russia proper and the nations of EastZentral Europe, sucked inexorably into a hellish vortex of a quarter-century of war, revolution, famine, and purges is magnified when he comes to consider the cases of the individuals he claims have committed “war crimes.” The reader should understand that for Ryan and the OSI a seemingly complicated standard for evaluating and punishing the conduct of immigrants in far-off lands four decades ago, is in force. Ryan finds great fault with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the jurisdiction of which over this sort of case was removed in the putsch engineered by Congressperson Elizabeth Holtzman and Felonperson Joshua Eilberg in 1979, for proceeding in the 1950’s with three cases against Jews charged by other Jews with beating and otherwise mistreating them, as well as in one case rounding up Jews for deportation as a member of the ghetto police. Although each of the accused Jews was allowed to remain in America, Ryan speaks plaintively of the INS finding “Jews who were Nazis” (as if brutality in the service of an authoritarian power were intrinsically “Nazi").

As to the non-Jews implicated in “war crimes” (at one place Ryan disclaims the phrase “war crimes,” following Simon Wiesenthal and other propagandists, but he uses it throughout), the author’s standard of evidence, as well as of basic equity, is selective indeed. He accepts without qualm lists and documents supplied by the Soviet Union, and one of the most revealing chapters of Quiet Americans recounts his journey to Moscow in 1980, where the trembling lawyer was duly cowed and impressed by several functionaries of the Soviet’s vast terror and prison machine (he accepts a cigarette from one, although he’s a non-smoker; sweats through the firm, potentially bone-crushing hand- shake of another; and returns breathless and ecstatic at the Reds' deigning to help out in what can only be a vast propaganda bonanza for the Kremlin).

A cardinal instance of the way Ryan and the OSI deal with historical evidence, as well as of their contempt for American ideals of fair play and justice, is Ryan’s handling of the case against John Demjanjuk, whom Ryan and the U.S. government hold guilty of the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews in 194243 at Treblinka, a German camp in Poland. The case against Demjanjuk, whose accusers say was called “Ivan the Terrible” in the days when he was allegedly operating a diesel engine hooked up to the Treblinka gas chambers, is clearly Ryan’s chef d'oeuvre. He begins his “indictment” with an account of Ivan’s supposed doings at the camp, and goes on to deal at further length with Ivan’s crimes at Treblinka in a chapter devoted entirely to Demjanjuk, the first of several chapters dealing with specific “war criminals.”

In his Demjanjuk chapter Ryan goes to some pains to display his newly acquired mastery of Exterminationism. His account of the establishment and workings of Treblinka is drawn from several sources, as well as the testimony of a number of professed eyewitnesses, the discrepancies in whose testimony “do not seriously detract from their accounts,” according to our lawyer- cum-historian. Ryan has enough grasp of the more refined account (let us call it the “Revised Standard Version") of the “Holocaust” story to be aware that Jean-Francois Steiner’s Treblinka has been banished from the ranks of canonical works on Exterminationism to the Exterminationist Apocrypha, although he archly announces that the book is “accurate enough for the lay reader.”

Despite Ryan’s mention of the Steiner book’s shortcomings, he latches on greedily to one of the book’s central theses, that Treblinka was a crowning achievement in the Nazi technology of death, and that its establishment was a triumph for cost-effective mass-murder. Not for Ryan is the emphasis of some “Holocaust” experts on the squeamishness, both on the part of the firing squads and the Nazi hierarchy, which resulted in a more “humane” method of killing: killing the Jews with rifle-fire was far “too primitive, too costly, too timesonsuming … there were too many of them, and not enough bullets.” The reader may make his own calculations as to the probable expenditure of bullets by a nation which fielded an army of several million men for the better part of six years, for much of that time in heavy combat, as well maintaining an air force in combat over the skies of Europe during the same time period, and judge Ryan’s reasoning here accordingly.

Ryan believes that “Treblinka was not only murder’s main factory but its first research and development center” (sort of a demonic Silicon Valley). Great strides were made, according to Ryan. 450 to 500 persons could be crowded into a 25-meter square gas chamber, a particularly notable achievement in view of the fact that previously, as the author informs us, the technicians of death had been unable to cram more than thirty or forty Jews-"no matter how tightly packed"-into specially modified “mobile killing vans.” If Ryan’s figures are to be believed, the trucks must have had carrying capacities of something less than two square meters-possibly less than that of their cabs-rendering the gas chambers of Treblinka a great advance indeed. If this premiere murder factory lacked crematoria to dispose of the bodies (something of an anomaly, in view of the great secrecy which Ryan alleges shrouded the camp), technology, we are left to assume, like nature, non Tacit salts

Certainly Ryan’s villain, Ivan the Terrible Demjanjuk, must have cut an outlandish figure among the austere technocrats who built and managed Treblinka, since it is alleged by the author (following the testimony of several sworn witnesses) that Ivan was wont to sally forth from his engine room whenever the mood struck him to carry out bestial assaults on his victims' ears, anuses, and genitalia. Whether Ivan was compelled, by his superiors or through some super-human exercise of self-discipline, to stick to his tank engine on those mornings when twenty thousand Jews arrived, were gassed, and “were dead by noon” is not made clear by Ryan, although he approvingly quotes several witnesses, one of whom has Ivan driving a cart as Jews are being driven into the gas chambers, another of whom claims that the spry Ukrainian met every train at the station, and another of whom claims Demjanjuk’s duties included driving his victims into the chambers himself.

Despite Ryan’s skills in reconstructing the technological and historical background to Treblinka, and in squeezing the last tear from his witnesses, and their roccoco atrocity stories, he was cognizant of the need of some supporting documentary evidence. With the help of a Soviet agent living in the United States, whom Ryan declines to name other than with a pseudonym, U.S. officials were provided with a reference to a document which pur- ports to show that Demjanjuk served as a concentration camp guard, and then, later, during the proceedings against Demjanjuk, the document itself, an ID card from a training camp for concentration camp personnel located at Travniki in Poland, with a picture of what seems to be a young Demjanjuk prominently displayed.

Much has been written about the propriety of accepting any sort of evidence from a regime which is unsurpassed in the dissemination of forgeries and faked documents of all kinds, and justifiably so. What makes the Demjanjuk ID card interesting, however, in the light of the testimony and allegations against him, is the fact that the ID, a picture of which is reproduced in Quiet Neighbors, has no reference to a posting at Treblinka at all. We learn that, according to the card, the holder was “abkommandiert” to a place called “LG. Okzow” on 22 September 1942 (at close to the height of Treblinka’s mass-murder season) and then sent off to Sobibor on 27 March 1943. There is no mention of Treblinka, an anomaly which evidently troubles Ryan not in the least. He makes no reference to what “LG. Okzow” might have been, and aside from his puzzled ruminations over the discrepancy in the initial Soviet report that placed Demjanjuk at Sobibor and the identifications of Jewish “survivors” of Treblinka, the obvious disparity between the evidence of the ID card, real or fake, and the testimony of the witnesses is passed over in silence.

What to make of a procedure so clumsy, and so shabby, that it would be laughed out of a police court if it ever so much as came to a hearing? Clearly it has little to do with the norms of justice in America. Then again, the OSI is scarcely an American body. It serves no American purpose, its investigations are dependent almost entirely on evidence supplied by the USSR and witnesses produced from abroad, mainly from Israel, and nine-tenths of its activity is focused on events which occurred in countries far from America and which didn’t involve Americans. Only two aspects of the OSI’s activities are American: Americans foot the bill, and several hundred Americanvs are being stripped of their rights and driven from their country.

Ryan is fairly explicit, despite certain efforts to portray the OSI as of vast moment to America’s conscience, in acknowledging to whom it is he owes allegiance. As he tells us, when he became head of OSI he was concerned about his not being a Jew. “Could a good lawyer who was not Jewish have the same commitment (to round up and deport alleged war criminals — ed.)?” As he told his Jewish boss at the Department of Justice, Assistant Attorney General Philip B. Heymann: “I believed that Jewish leaders would be fair enough to give me-and Heymann enough time to judge whether that commitment was there, and whether I could produce results. If I could, my religion would not matter; if I could not, I deserved to get the sack.” So much for separation of church and state; so much for justice in America.

Ryan’s allegiance to Israel and his fawning compliance with Soviet officials might be more than enough to disqualify him for any position in an American government and enough to result in the abolition of the OSI immediately, particularly by an administration that at least gives lip service to American nationalism and anti-Communism. The fact that several Americans have already been banished from a country that they served loyally (witness Bishop Viorel Trifa’s establishment of an anti-Comminist Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America to counter the existing, Bucharest-controlled body), the fact that at least two have been driven to suicide, and the glaring violations of justice and the rights of several hundred other Americans, whom the OSI is busily investigating and indicting even now, would seem to spur the Reagan administration even more vigorously. The fact that these haven’t occurred teaches us more about the present reality of government in America than the leaders of the current administration would like us to know, just as Ryan’s book teaches us more about the author and the OSI than was his purpose in revealing.

Bibliographic information
Author: O’Keefe, Theodore J.
Title: Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals In America (review)
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: Summer 1986
Issue: Volume 6 number 2
Location: Page 231
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.