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Authors: Eric Lichtblau

The Nazis Next Door

BOOK: The Nazis Next Door
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents






The Good Nazis

“Minor War Crimes”

Echoes from Argentina

Tilting at Swastikas

In the Pursuit of Science

Out of the Shadows

“An Ugly Blot”


The Sins of the Father

A Good Party Spoiled

“An Innocent Man”


Ivan the Terrible

The Road to Ponary






About the Author

Copyright © 2014 by Eric Lichtblau


All rights reserved


For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York, 10003.


The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Lichtblau, Eric.

The Nazis next door : how America became a safe haven for Hitler’s men / Eric Lichtblau.

pages cm

Includes bibliographical references and index.

978-0-547-66919-9 (hardback)

1. Anti-communist movements—United States—History—20th century. 2. Nazis—United States—History—20th century. 3. Refugees—United States—History—20th century. 4. War criminals—United States—History—20th century. 5. United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation—History—20th century. 6. United States. Central Intelligence Agency—History—20th century. 7. Espionage, American—History—20th century. 8. Cold War. 9. United States—Politics and government—1945–1989. 10. United States—Foreign relations—1945–1989. I.

E743.5.L49 2014

324.1'3—dc23 2014023543


Map by Chris Robinson







For my mother, who taught me to keep asking questions





“The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.”


Robert H. Jackson, Nuremberg prosecutor (1945)


“It is all forgotten. It’s all over.”


Jakob Reimer, former Nazi SS officer living outside New York City (1998)


A Name from the Past


July 12, 1974




The old man sounded panicked. He was normally so cocksure and crafty, but now, as he related the strange events of the last few weeks, there was the squall of desperation in a voice left raspy by too many Marlboros. He was in trouble,
Tom Soobzokov was telling his long-ago friend John Grunz
on the other end of the phone line. Exactly why was still not clear; the words were tumbling out so furiously in Soobzokov’s thick Slavic accent that Grunz could scarcely follow his helter-skelter story.

Crazy refugees from the old country were out to destroy him, the old man was saying. There was something about libelous stories in the newspaper. A hell-bent congresswoman was somehow involved, too. And did Grunz hear his old friend Tom right? Did he just say something about Nazi war crimes?

Slow down, slow down, Grunz urged. Whatever’s going on, he said, we can deal with it. The assurances did nothing to calm Soobzokov.

You don’t understand. My life is in danger.

Typical Soobzokov. He inevitably seemed to cloak himself in some bit of drama or other; there was always that element of intrigue. He was, as his secret psychological workups
had concluded years earlier, a bold and impassioned man, “a leader type who can get things done,” but volatile and scheming, too; “a skillful manipulator of people.” His outsize, fill-up-the-room personality had defined him for as long as Grunz had known him. But had his old friend, still rambling on the phone about Nazis and government probes, now turned delusional, too?

The two men, their lives once so tightly intertwined, had lost touch in recent years. Then came the cryptic message that an intermediary had passed along to Grunz just a few days earlier: someone named Soobzokov was looking for him. He wanted him to call as soon as possible. It sounded urgent.

Tom Soobzokov? Looking for him? It had been many years—fifteen, maybe twenty—since they had last spoken. What could he want after all this time?

Soobzokov, nothing if not resourceful, had gotten a friend in Congress to find Grunz’s unlisted line and get the message to him. That wasn’t as simple as it sounded, since Grunz had a way of making himself hard to find. He was, after all, a CIA spy.

Soobzokov knew a bit about spying, too. That was how he knew Grunz. Soobzokov had once been a spy himself for the CIA—not a particularly good one, but a spy nonetheless. Grunz had been his handler in the Middle East two decades earlier as they chased intelligence on the Soviets in the crazy Cold War days of the 1950s. Soobzokov’s main mission was to recruit Russian émigrés and fervent anti-Communists—people like him—who might be willing to spy on their former homeland for America. He was always on the verge of turning the next big Russian agent, or so he claimed. It was in the Middle East that Soobzokov had picked up his CIA code name: Nostril, an unflattering allusion to his prominent hooked nose. If he minded the moniker, he never let on. He loved the cloak-and-dagger intrigue of the spy business. He also liked to brandish his agency credentials to friends and acquaintances, with a reckless bravado—not a good quality in a spy. As his handler, Grunz was sometimes forced to clean up the mess left by Nostril’s indiscretions in far-flung places.

Now, so many years later, a frantic Soobzokov had put out word—through a congressman, no less—that he was looking for Grunz. No, don’t give him my phone number,
Grunz told the congressman’s office. I’ll contact him.

Whatever was going on, Grunz figured it couldn’t be good.

He picked up the phone and dialed a 201 area code: northern New Jersey, where, if he recalled right, Soobzokov had settled when he emigrated from Europe after World War II among a mass of war-torn refugees.

Pleasantries were few, despite their long estrangement. Soobzokov needed help, and he needed it now, he told Grunz. His life—the American life he had cultivated so assiduously for himself, his wife, and his five children in the hardscrabble town of Paterson, New Jersey—was collapsing around him. Amid the flurry of wild-sounding events, Grunz was finally able to parse out enough of the details to fully appreciate his panic.

Maybe he wasn’t so delusional, after all. People really were after him.

It had started with the whispers. For years, a bunch of Soobzokov’s fellow immigrants who, like him, hailed from Russia’s rugged western borderland in the North Caucasus, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, had been spreading malicious talk about him, he said. He practically spat the words. They were obviously jealous of him—jealous of the political connections he’d built among state Democrats; jealous of the plum county job he’d landed; jealous of the reputation he’d earned in the immigrant community as a leader and fixer, a man who could make problems go away. When he walked into a room, people stood up out of respect. He was a man of stature, a man of influence, and his rivals in New Jersey obviously resented him for it.

Now their envy had turned truly vile. The outrageous things they were saying about him! That back in the old country, he had become the Germans’ henchman in his village after Hitler’s 1942 invasion. That he had turned on his own people. That he had worn the reviled Waffen SS uniform. That he had led roaming Third Reich “execution squads” that gunned down Jews and Communists.

That he was, in short, a Nazi.

Tall and lanky, with a bushy mustache, a ruddy complexion, and a handsome face that suggested any number of ethnicities, Soobzokov had gone by many names and identities since the war: his given name of Tscherim Soobzokov, or Tom, as he was called by the local politicos who had befriended him; Sergei Zarevich, or Kerim Lafsoka, as some of his official papers identified him; the vanilla-sounding alias of “Kenneth Desnew” on overseas spy trips; and, of course, Nostril, his code name in CIA files.

His accusers from the old country knew him by yet another name:
the Führer of the North Caucasus,
some called him.

It was slander of the worst kind, the old man insisted. At first, he had tried to write it off as just the vicious gossip of the immigrant community. Hadn’t there been similar smears spread by the Communists against dozens of other good Americans since the end of the war? Good men, respected men, men like him. These were solid citizens who, like him, served their new country well but were accused of being Nazis nonetheless: German rocket scientists in Alabama, doctors in San Antonio, a successful businessman in Northern California, an Olympic coach in San Diego, an architect in Philadelphia, even a prominent bishop in Michigan.

All innocent, like him; all victims of lies, Soobzokov told anyone who would listen.

The public was largely oblivious to it all. For that, at least, Soobzokov was grateful. Even the powerful people who heard the whispers—the FBI, the INS, the occasional congressman—seemed blissfully uninterested. It was a brutal time, those war years, and whatever had happened was so long ago. No one cared, thank God.

Yet somehow, three decades after the war, his past was becoming quite public. The talk had gone from rumor to news, with his tiny hometown paper printing a few stories on the Nazi claims against him. TV newscasters had picked up on the innuendo, too. Soobzokov figured his rival—that scoundrel Dr. Jawad Idriss, a good-for-nothing fabricator who thought
was the real leader of their immigrant clan in New Jersey—must have gone shooting his mouth off again with his outrageous Nazi accusations. Grist for a lawsuit, perhaps.

That was bad enough. Then, just a few days earlier, Soobzokov was named in a story in the
New York Times
with a list of more than three dozen suspected Nazis living comfortably and quietly in America, divorced from their hidden pasts. The good name of Tom Soobzokov in the
New York Times!
Calling him a Nazi! Immigration officials, under pressure for failing to do anything about supposed war criminals living in the United States, had grudgingly turned over the list to a pesky New York congresswoman, Elizabeth Holtzman. A Jew, of course. Soobzokov didn’t trust Jews. He had confided as much years earlier to the CIA; Soobzokov “would be ashamed to work for a Jew,”
a note in his file read. Now this Holtzman woman was demanding action and making his life miserable. He was seething as he told his old friend Grunz about all the accusations that were being slung at him.

There was talk of trying to take away his citizenship and send him back to Russia—back to the loathsome Communists who had taken away his father’s land. What could be worse? And now the Jewish militants were planning pickets at his house, his friends inside the local police department were telling him. His political bosses in Passaic County, wary of all the publicity, were already threatening to suspend him from his county purchasing job. They were afraid of the political embarrassment. Cowards, all of them. And ungrateful, too, after all the votes he’d brought them from his fellow immigrants.

There’d been threats to his life, he told Grunz.
I’m a loyal American citizen. I did nothing wrong. I fought the Communists. I served my country. I served you—and the CIA
. As if to quell any doubts about his spy service, Soobzokov spoke ominously of the secret dossier he’d kept on his years of faithful undercover work for the CIA. There was a paper trail, he promised; a long one.

Lay low, Grunz implored. Don’t say anything to anyone; that would make things worse. And whatever you do, don’t mention anything about your work with the CIA. It will all blow over.


Yet in his own mind, Grunz wasn’t so certain.

Now working at CIA headquarters outside Washington, D.C., Grunz knew he would have to inform higher-ups about the unnerving conversation with his ex-spy. They would no doubt want to sniff out senior officials at the Justice Department to see whether the CIA would be dragged into the muck by the accusations. Maybe they could get the INS to back off; this was a national security matter, after all.

BOOK: The Nazis Next Door
3.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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