How Nazis Got Years Of Social Security Benefits From The US Government

“The passage of the Social Security Act in 1935 marked a great advance in our concept of the means by which our citizens, through their Government, can provide against common economic risks.” —President Harry S. Truman speaking to Congress in May 1948

In A Nutshell

An investigation started by the Associated Press found that between 1962 and 2015, more than $20 million was paid out to Nazi war criminals living in the US and overseas. The Department of Justice used benefits to persuade at least 28 suspected ex-Nazis to leave the country, allowing them to keep receiving money as long as they left voluntarily. It was only with the 2014 No Social Security for Nazis Act that the payments slowed, and they didn’t even stop completely until January 2015.

The Whole Bushel

As the years go by, time is running out on the clock to bring the remaining Nazi war criminals to justice. With more and more dying of natural causes—and many now in their eighties and nineties—it means that efforts to bring some final survivors to justice are last-ditch efforts. But we’re still uncovering other shocking things that were done after the war, and it was only in 2014 that the No Social Security for Nazis Act stopped at least some of the payments the US government was making to former Nazis who had settled in the US.

An investigation by the Associated Press revealed the amount of money paid out from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to retirees who had ties to the Nazi party; more than $20.2 million had been paid to 133 people linked to the Third Reich.

With the SSA originally denying the AP access to the documents and records, it took them a bit longer to paint an accurate picture of what was going on. Payments were made beginning in 1962 and only stopping in January 2015, and they were made possible by a weird legal loophole.

When Nazi war criminals were identified by the Department of Justice, the department could use the benefits as leverage to get them out of the country. If the suspected persons left of their own accord, they were allowed to keep their benefits. If they needed to be deported, they would lose the money. As of March 1999, the SSA had paid around $1.5 million to 28 people living outside the US because of their voluntary departure.

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While the No Social Security for Nazis Act didn’t publish the names of some of the people receiving benefits, the BBC did. The list includes former Mauthausen guard Martin Bartesch, SS volunteer Martin Hartmann, Jakob Denzinger of the Death’s Head Unit, SS guard Peter Mueller, Wasyl Lytwyn of the Warsaw Ghetto SS, Nazi-installed regional mayor John Avdzej, and Nazi rocket factory overseer Arthur Rudolph.

No one’s really sure how many former Nazis ended up settling in the US after the war, with many doing so under false pretenses. (For example, Avdzej claimed he was a farmer when he applied for his immigration status.) It’s thought that a number of them had other government ties, too, brought into the country in the hopes that they would act as spies and informants during the looming Cold War.

New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau uncovered masses of files that had been wiped clean of Nazi atrocities, all belonging to people fleeing the country. When it came to immigration into the US, he found a surprising number of Washington lawmakers who took a stand against giving Jewish survivors visas and instead citing very Nazi-esque ideas about their work ethic and entitlement as reasons why they shouldn’t be allowed in.

Those visas went instead to Nazis and Nazi collaborators, with more than a thousand admitted into the US under a sort of improvised program with various intelligence agencies who wanted to use them and their knowledge.

It wasn’t until 1979 that the Office of Special Investigations turned around and formed a unit to start tracking down war criminals living in the US.

Show Me The Proof

PBS: Ex-Nazis received $20 million in Social Security benefits
NPR: How Thousands Of Nazis Were ‘Rewarded’ With Life In The U.S.
BBC News: Nazis who left US still received social security
US Congress: No Social Security for Nazis Act

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