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Lawyer-Turned-Crusader Pays Price for Probe of Nazis in U.S.

October 23, 1988|BRIAN MURPHY | Associated Press

ROCKLAND, Mass. — Sometimes John Loftus wishes he had simply walked out of the classified government vaults 10 years ago and turned his back forever on his knowledge of Nazis living quietly in the United States.

By this time, Loftus figures, he could have been a veteran Justice Department prosecutor or perhaps he might have started a lucrative law practice in his home state of Massachusetts. He thinks he might even have spared his wife a disabling injury and that he might have been able to keep his spacious Rockland home.

Instead, Loftus' search into documents showing Nazi officers and sympathizers smuggled to the West as anti-communist informants led to his resignation from a special federal Nazi-prosecution unit in 1981. That's when he began his one-man probe into the government's collaboration with fugitive Nazis.

His quest has been costly.

Costs Barely Covered

Loftus' research and travel is barely covered by his magazine articles and royalties from his 1982 book, "The Belarus Secret," which chronicles the paths taken to the West by Nazis who led the massacre of nearly 40,000 Jews in the Byelorussian section of Eastern Europe.

His wife was left partially crippled after a 1983 attack at a psychiatric hospital, where she had taken a job to help pay bills. He had to put his home up for sale. A Kentucky-based fund for Loftus' work doesn't even offset phone bills, he said.

"God, I think often about what it would be like if I just walked out of that vault," said the 38-year-old Loftus. "My family would be healthy. I wouldn't be constantly on the edge of bankruptcy.

"But I think if I would have done that, I would have been ashamed for the rest of my life."

Loftus, the crusader, was once a comfortable insider with a steppingstone resume.

Like many Irish-Catholic boys, he went from Boston Latin School to Jesuit-run Boston College, where he took political science classes with other aspiring attorneys and public servants. After graduating from Suffolk Law School in Boston in 1977, he accepted an honors placement in the Justice Department.

Loftus was moving up the Justice Department ranks when he noticed a posting in 1979 seeking applicants for the Office of Special Investigations, created to find and deport war criminals.

"I joined OSI for purely selfish reasons," Loftus said. "I thought being a Nazi prosecutor would be good for my career--and I might even get a free trip to Germany out of it. But it was my honest feeling that it was a waste of the government's money to reopen cases against 60-year-old men for crimes committed 40 years ago. I thought we had more important targets.

"I knew nothing about the Holocaust, like most Americans. There were six sentences about the Holocaust and war crimes in all my public education."

Loftus' education began with his first cases. He was assigned OSI files connected to Byelorussia, or White Russia, a section of the Soviet Union occupied by the Nazis from 1941 to 1944 when nearly all Jewish natives were exterminated by local Nazi collaborators.

While researching the cases, Loftus spent hours studying old files in the vaults in Suitland, Md., tracking the subjects from White Russia to the United States. Many of the paths, he learned, passed through shadowy anti-communist groups established in Allied nations to coordinate espionage against Joseph Stalin and the rising Soviet regime.

Loftus estimates that nearly 10,000 Nazi officers and sympathizers were brought into the United States through intelligence networks using the Displaced Person's Act at the height of McCarthyism. Many were given citizenship and have lived openly without recrimination. Nearly 6,000 survive, he estimates.

In South River, N.J., for example, Loftus and three other OSI officials in 1980 checked gravestones near a monument bearing the symbol of the Belarus SS outfit in White Russia. Ironically, Loftus has become a close friend of one of the few surviving Byelorussian Jews, who also lives in New Jersey.

Not Talking About Clerks

"Here is someone living in the shadow of the people who murdered his family. . . . We're not talking about somebody serving as a clerk for the Nazis or someone who swept out the mess hall or some poor kid drafted into the Nazi army; we're talking about politicians who climbed to power over the bodies of children."

Loftus said the benefit of bringing in the Nazis was marginal and perhaps even damaging to national security. Few of those sheltered by the intelligence community had actual links to underground networks in Europe. In fact, some were Soviet counteragents, he said.

Harold (Kim) Philby, who coordinated many Nazi emigrations as leader of the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, defected to the Soviet Union in 1963 as one of the highest-placed moles in Western intelligence. Philby, 76, died in May in the Soviet Union.

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