H. R. 4007, the "Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act," provides for the disclosure of Nazi war criminal records in the possession of the United States Government. It calls for the establishment of an Interagency Working Group to administer and facilitate the disclosure of Nazi war crimes records. The bill also provides for expedited processing of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests of Holocaust survivors. S. 1379, which is identical to H.R.. 4007, was introduced by Senator DeWine and passed the Senate by unanimous consent on June 19.
Much of the U.S. Government's information on alleged Nazi war criminals has remained secret even though many researchers have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to secure copies of these files. Federal Government agencies have routinely denied these requests, citing exemptions for national defense, foreign relations, and intelligence reasons.
Perhaps the most compelling example of the consequences of keeping U.S. Government files hidden is the case of Kurt Waldheim. For years, the Central Intelligence Agency kept secret its information on Waldheim. This occurred even as the Department of Justice placed Waldheim on the "watch list" of individuals forbidden to enter the United States. Had Waldheim's Nazi past become public, he almost certainly would not have been elected to the post of Secretary General of the United Nations.
Waldheim, unfortunately, is not alone. Thanks to the recent declassification of some CIA documents, it has been revealed that American intelligence agencies recruited other individuals associated with the Nazis. Klaus Barbie, the head of the German Secret Police in Lyons, France who deported Jews to Nazi death camps, was protected by American intelligence. Other documents revealed that Otto von Bolschwing, a former German SS captain, may have been recruited as an intelligence source for the United States.
A related bill, the U.S. Holocaust Assets Commission Act, was recently signed into law. This commission will determine whether assets such as bank accounts, insurance policies, real estate, art, and other possessions of persecuted Jewish families in Europe came into the hands of the U.S. Government after January 30, 1933. Declassifying secret documents regarding Nazi war crimes will not only assist in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, but it should provide this commission with an abundance of new materials.
More than half a century after the Second World War, it is time to end the sweeping exemptions that have shielded Nazi war crimes from full public disclosure.