Useful Enemies—a disturbing rationalization of a war criminal

Useful Enemies—John Demjanjuk and America’s Open Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals by Richard Rashke (Delphinium Books) is a disturbing book.

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Richard Rashke

It exposes with a broad brush the world’s culpability for the Holocaust.  Rashke spares no one from the blame, from the planners of the Final Solution at the Wannsee Conference to America’s complicity by shutting its borders to refugees.

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John Demjanjuk.  This identification card was the key piece of evidence.

The main character of the book is John Demjanjuk.  Demjanjuk was a concentration camp guard, who settled in Ohio after World War II.  For two decades he fought against the full fury of the United States, Israel and Germany, who tried to bring him to account for his crimes.  First he was denaturalized and then deported from the United States.  In Israel he was convicted and sentenced to death for war crimes, before winning his appeal before the Supreme Court of Israel.  He was deported back to the United States, where he regained but then lost his citizenship and was deported again.  Ultimately, he was convicted of war crimes in Germany, only to die while awaiting sentencing.

Rashke treats Demjanjuk sympathetically.  He paints Demjanjuk as a victim, targeted for punishment for the world’s worst crimes, while far more significant offenders got away.

Rashke’s point has merit, but the merit is limited.  Rashke states that the intelligence community was delighted by the prosecution of Demjanjuk because it drew attention away from America’s use of Nazi war criminals and collaborators as agents in the Cold War. 

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Rashke’s rationalization of Demjanjuk’s minor role in the Holocaust is wrong.   Demjanjuk’s crimes, on their own, merited the loss of his citizenship and prosecution by Israel and Germany.  Rashke’s rationalization of Demjanjuk’s crimes is the most disturbing part of the book.

Useful Enemies is an excellent resource on the breadth of the Holocaust, though I disagree with the point of view of the author.

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The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy

On a shady court house lawn in Brooklyn stands the statue of Robert F. Kennedy.  People walk by.  I wonder if they notice the statue or realize who he was.

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Open Road Integrated Media has released as an e-book David Halberstam’s memoir of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 campaign for President.

Halberstam’s writing is delicious.  The reporting is fresh.  The book was written months after RFK’s assassination.  It captures the spirit of the times and the excitement of Kennedy’s campaign, unfettered by historical analysis.

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RFK was a political meteor.   Moments after claiming his greatest victory—the California Democratic primary—his star was extinguished by an assassin.

JFK and RFK were generational figures.   JFK was the culmination of the rise of the World War II generation.  RFK captured the spirit and the hopes of the youth culture.  Alone among the candidates for president he connected with the Blacks, the poor and the Latinos.   His campaign was not about the restoration of JFK, but about racial conciliation and social change. 

After RFK was killed, the dull, establishment figure of Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, only to be defeated by Richard Nixon, who advocated benign neglect of our racial problems.

Today, we have a Black Democratic President.  The most conservative member of the Supreme Court is a Black Republican.  A conservative Mexican American Republican from Texas is pushing his way into the national spotlight.  

I wonder how much easier we would have reached such markers had RFK finished his odyssey.