Nazis in Australia


Nazis in Australia


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Australia, Nazi Haven for the new Millennium?

By Bruce Rosen

IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair… (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859).)

Just as the past century has been one of great achievements it has also been one of great horror. Certainly one of the greatest, if not the greatest of these horrors, was the attempt to wipe the Jewish people from the face of the earth. It was only after the Second World War, that the full devastation of the Holocaust was brought home to Jews and non-Jews alike. Unfortunately what was not recognized by many in the post-Victory euphoria was the seemingly admiration by some of the victors of elements of Nazi Germany.

There are two reasons for this failure of recognition. First, in the flush of winning, most of those in the West wanted to put as much of the events of the previous years behind them as possible. Many accepted, with unbelievable naivet?, the claims of many Germans that they had no idea of what was going on, they had never heard of concentration camps even when they were on their doorstep and they had no idea of what was going on in the death camps. Second, for many, it was unthinkable that those governments, which had brought the Axis powers to their knees, could be guilty of the same immorality as their German foes. Unfortunately, these optimists were wrong. Even those who should have known better were prepared to turn a blind eye to Nazi war criminals as fears of a new conflict with the Soviet Union began to emerge.

Australia is the only major Western country that admitted large numbers of Nazis and ex-Nazis between 1945 and 1950 and has failed to successfully prosecute even a single one. As the Jerusalem Post noted last year, Australia "has failed to convict, denaturalize, deport, expel or extradite a single Nazi war criminal", making it "a haven for some of the worst of Hitler's henchmen". Technically that may have changed with the decision by the Courts to extradite Konrads Kalejs to Latvia following a request for his extradition from that country. However, with Kalejs' appeal estimated to take up to four years, and considering his age and alleged state of health, it is unlikely that he will ever leave Australia.

Australia assumes that the bizarre notion that all sins are forgiven along with the granting of citizenship. It has been suggested that because convicts, transported from Britain to settle in Australia this country has adopted a live and let live philosophy and that this notion, along with the principle of tabula rasa is at work. I find this argument specious on two grounds. First, convicts transported to Australia were not granted a "clean slate." In fact, for many decades it was considered appropriate to hide one's past. Secondly, those who committed crimes of a more serious nature were either not transported, having being hanged, or if they were transported and committed grievous crimes in Australia, were likely to suffer the same fate as they would have suffered in Britain. But such an argument would only be marginally relevant at best since we are not talking about criminals (for whom forgiveness might be acceptable) but monsters.

The view that we should stop pursuing "old and sick men" and let them live out their lives in peace is a seductive one. But what of those who never had the opportunity to reach the age of their murderers? Perhaps it is fanciful, but I cannot believe that they would be prepared to forget, let alone forgive. Such an attitude is, I believe, and should be, morally abhorrent to most Australians in the twenty-first century. Even Britain, which was unwilling to act on Konrad Kalejs, allowing him to leave voluntarily to avoid prosecution and deportation, was not prepared to forgive Ronnie Biggs, the great train robber, despite his advanced years and ill health. Equally, in Australia, the attempt to extradite Christopher Skase from his Majorca hideaway continues unabated despite reports of his serious health problems.

By any international standard Australia has been largely free of the most virulent forms of Anti-Semitism. On the whole Australia's pre-war Jewish population marched to the same drummer as their non-Jewish counterparts except in the matter of religion. Post-war immigrants were too concerned with building new lives to focus on what they rightfully felt was behaviour totally outside the realm of what was appropriate and decent in a democratic society. Nonetheless, Australia has not been entirely free of neo-Nazi activity.

In 1993, the synagogue of the Brisbane Hebrew Congregation was plastered with posters and graffiti. In 1994, in Adelaide, South Australia, a community which glories in being known as the city of parks and churches, a group of twenty neo-Nazis, looking a bit like the pathetic leftovers from a racist masquerade party, goose-stepped through the city's major mall shouting "Seig Heil" and "Heil Hitler." It didn't take long for the march to turn ugly with fifteen people injured and four of the marchers arrested. Some weeks later another demonstration was held in Adelaide. A rally, sponsored by Australian National Action, to denounce proposed anti-racist legislation drew approximately 100 skinheads and neo-Nazis.

Jews played a significant role in Australian life in the twentieth century ranging from the military and the political, including medicine, the arts, academia and the sciences. One of the major Australian Football teams (a sport that can only be understood and appreciated by one with a distinctly "one-eyed" Antipodean outlook) is owned by an orthodox Jew. Generally the contributions of Jewish Australians have been disproportionate to their population. Yet one could be forgiven, when reading about many of these Australians, if one found no reference to their faith. Perhaps had Australia's Jews been more vocal in their Judaism, more vocal in demanding tighter screening of Eastern European immigrants, governments might have paid somewhat more attention to them. Even today, when in fact they are more visible and more vocal, it is largely assumed that their responses to matters are more likely to be based on their "Australian" identity than on their Jewishness.

Two recent and related events have once again brought the question of Australia as a refuge for former Nazis back into focus. The first, a series of reports by The Sydney Morning Herald in August of 1999 uncovered documents showing that scientists and technicians were brought from Germany to Australia as part of a scheme to bring in highly trained technicians. The Employment of Scientific and Technical Aliens Scheme (ESTEA) operated between 1946 and 1951, bringing in 127 German scientists of whom almost one-third were affiliated with either the Nazi Party or other Nazi groups. In addition some of the remainder had worked for the Nazis in military research or for I G Farben, the notorious chemical firm that used concentration camp inmates as workers. The second is the ongoing furore over Konrad Kalejs, an alleged war criminal, and the unwillingness of successive Australian governments to take any action in dealing with his case.

As soon as the story of the ESTEA scientists was released, Jewish groups called for an investigation. Dr Colin Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) was quoted as saying,"It is a deplorable and shocking revelation that fully-paid up Nazi party members, including those who belonged to Nazi killing units, were permitted to enter Australia and start new lives, often at taxpayers' expense."

As far back as 1986, Mark Aarons, an ABC radio journalist presented a program, Nazis in Australia. He subsequently developed his research for the radio program into the book Sanctuary, published in 1989, in which he expanded and detailed his argument. In both he charged that not only had Nazi war criminals been allowed to immigrate to Australia but that many of them came with the knowledge, even the complicity, of Australian authorities. He further charged that subsequent Australian governments had refused to act to extradite Nazi war criminals, even going so far as to "muddy the waters" in terms of identifying them. In the same year as the radio program and largely as a result of it, the Labor Government of Prime Minister Robert J Hawke established an inquiry under the directorship of Andrew Menzies, QC, former deputy director of the Attorney-Generals department. Menzies conducted an investigation into the charges that Nazis had slipped into Australia as a part of the ESTEA scheme. His report appeared to clear the scheme and this, in turn, closed the door on any further investigation of those who had come in as a part of it. However, he did find that "significant numbers of Nazis had arrived in Australia and special action was needed." Following the report, the Hawke government set up a Special Investigations Unit in 1987. The SIU was charged with investigating and prosecuting any individuals in Australia who were believed to have committed crimes against humanity during World War II.

Robert Greenwood, QC was appointed director of the SIU, which had more than 800 cases referred to it for investigation by the time of its closure, by Labor's Attorney-General, Michael Duffy, five years later, on 30 June 1992, it became clear that no new cases would be opened or even investigated. The timing of the closure could not have been worse. Archives in the former Soviet Union were being opened and new evidence on existing suspects and information about previously unidentified war criminals was being found. During its existence, the SIU was responsible for the mounting of three prosecutions, all of which failed. A fourth case was quashed by Attorney-General Michael Duffy on the political grounds that the Australian public perceived the cost of such prosecutions as excessive. Finance Minister, Peter Walsh who referred to the SIU as a "crazy exercise," and urged its termination, supported Duffy's view.

Greenwood, who had quit in 1991, was to write that "Duffy lacked the far-sightedness of his predecessor" and as a result, "his job became difficult, frustrating, exhausting and 'nigh on impossible'". The experience convinced him that he "was dealing with a Government of almost nil moral fibre." Eli Rosenbaum, Director of the Office of Special Investigations at the US Department of Justice visited Australia in early March, 2000. In an address delivered in Melbourne, Rosenbaum talked about his relationship with the SIU.

In the late 80s and early 90s, it was my privilege to serve as liaison for the Special Investigations Unit of the Australian Attorney-General's Department. I worked very closely with Bob Greenwood and Graham Blewitt and their talented staff. They put together some important cases. And I shared and still share their disappointment that those cases failed. At least they failed in courts of law. They didn't fail in another sense. We all know that. By aggressively prosecuting some suspects, they sent a message to all the other people in your country who took part in these crimes and the message was: "You could be caught tomorrow. You didn't get away with it. Not necessarily. You may wake up tomorrow to find out that the SIU knows who you are." .

The one case, however, which stands as a symbol of how Australia's efforts have been too little and too late is that of Konrad Kalejs. For Kalejs, Australia was nothing more than a safe haven.

Kalejs was granted Australian citizenship in 1957, but moved to the United States two years later in 1959. He was deported from the US in 1994 for concealing his wartime activities but in the intervening thirty-five years he managed to become a very wealthy man. Although Australian authorities have always argued that there was insufficient evidence to act on Kalejs' war crimes, the level of evidence was sufficient to persuade American judge, Anthony Petrone who, after carefully considering the evidence, stated that he was convinced that Kalejs had been involved in war crimes. Eli Rosenbaum, has stated that the US decision concerning Kalejs' involvement in war crimes was proved "to the satisfaction of a judge, under a standard of proof that is substantially identical to the burden of proof that applies in criminal cases in all Commonwealth countries…"

After a brief stay in Australia, Kalejs left for Canada from where he was deported in 1997. Finally it seemed his past was catching up with Konrad Kalejs. It was probably in the following year that he again left Australia, this time for England where he was found in a nursing home in Leicestershire. He then left Britain voluntarily for Australia after being told that he would be deported if he tried to stay in the country. Kalejs arrived back in Australia on 7 January 2000 and was greeted at the airport by protestors, denouncing his return. He was then whisked through the terminal while the police blocked reporters and photographers.

A few days before his arrival back in Australia, reporters asked the Justice Minister, Amanda Vanstone whether Kalejs would be welcome in Australia. "Would you expect," she replied, "a situation where any Australian citizen would not be?"

In mid-July, 2000, Australia and Latvia signed an extradition treaty and Latvia issued an arrest warrant for Kalejs. In November a Latvian court turned down an appeal against an arrest warrant. His lawyers argued that Kalejs was too ill to come to Latvia and stand trial. With the strong encouragement of the United States and Israel, the Latvian government, in December, requested the extradition of Konrad Kalejs from Australia to Latvia to stand trial on charges of War Crimes and genocide.

Kalejs was arrested, but later released on bail. On the 29th of May, magistrate Lisa Hannan after hearing evidence held that Kalejs should be extradited to Latvia to stand trial and until such time, committed to prison. Kalejs' lawyers arranged for him to be out on bail in a matter of hours and immediately started the process of appeal to the Federal Court. Should this fail, his lawyers have indicated that they will take the case to the full bench of the Federal Court and, if necessary, to the High Court. It seems likely that if Kalejs is indeed as ill as he has been painted, he will manage to elude justice one more time.

In an interview with the journalist Kerry O'brien, on the ABC's 7:30 Report, the present Justice Minister, Amanda Vanstone, was asked about the claim that the Australian Government had neither the will nor the desire to find and prosecute alleged Nazi war criminals. The Minister called the claim "outrageous" and attacked the American 20/20 program, which had made the claim and the American media in general. .

…in Australia we don't have trial by the media. We have trial by the courts and in Australia, you are innocent until proven guilty. Frankly, I feel not only offended in a national sense by that interview, but as a person, I feel quite sickened that that type of journalism can go to air anywhere in the western world. (Australian Broadcasting Commission, 7:30 Report, Transcript, 12 June 1999)

If the best defence is a good offence, then Vanstone could be seen as mounting a solid defence. Unfortunately, at no time in the interview did she seem to come to grips with many of the questions that O'Brien was raising. Her main argument was that the American experience was totally different from Australia's and could not, for that reason, be relied upon. She also claims that the "fourth" case was never proceeded with because the Director of Public Prosecutions, the independent arbiter of whether to proceed or not, felt there was insufficient evidence to achieve a conviction.

Unfortunately, this interpretation of the events surrounding the "fourth" case, that of Karlis Ozols, presented by Vanstone seems to have differed significantly from the known facts. It is true that the SIU referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which briefed a leading Melbourne Queen's Counsel and former Director of the National Crime Authority, Peter Faris. Toward the end of June 1992 Faris advised the DPP that, in his opinion, a case existed. He noted, "It would be wrong to shut the investigation down now. Justice demands that the investigation be completed." Nonetheless, Attorney-General Duffy refused to continue the matter and referred it to the Australian Federal Police where the matter remained uncompleted.

In March of 1997, five years after the closure of the SIU, Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, announced that the case was closed. In his statement Williams declared that "in the Director of Public Prosecution's view the existing material was insufficient and the incomplete case was referred to the Australian Federal Police," and went on, "The AFP concluded that there was little chance of success in pursuing this case to finality." It would appear that this is the statement on which Minister Vanstone was relying.

In 1999, the Australian Parliament changed the War Crimes Bill making it easier to extradite suspected war criminals from Australia. The changes meant that it was no longer necessary to establish a prima facie case before agreeing to extradition.

Whilst it has been argued that Australia has a proud record in human rights, I am left with the distinct impression that when the children of murdered parents and the parents of murdered children are told that it is perfectly alright for the murderers to live in their midst, and the decision is justified on the grounds that we have something to learn from the murderers, or that the suspected criminals are too old or too feeble to endure prosecution, or even that too much time has elapsed to bother with these people and they should be allowed to live out their lives in peace, we are dealing with a significant moral abscess on the part of those making such decisions. I find it particularly difficult to follow the logic that says because mass murderers have denied their criminal involvement in the Holocaust and have been granted citizenship in Australia they cannot now be stripped of that citizenship. There has never been and never should be a statute of limitations on those who practice or support genocide.


Despite the claims of Senator Amanda Vanstone and other government apologists, it would appear that Australia has been, at best, extremely reluctant to take any kind of action in terms of the prosecution of Nazi War Criminals. As recently as April of this year, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, assigned Australia the second lowest "grade" for its efforts in this area. Australia was seen as one of the countries, which despite making a minimal effort, had failed to achieve results and had stopped its efforts prematurely. Australia is described as: .

The only country in the Western world to which large numbers of Nazi collaborators and criminals (at least several hundreds if not several thousands) emigrated after World War II which has hereto failed to take successful legal action against a single one. Australia closed down its Special Investigations Unit on June 30, 1992 at a time when highly important documentation was first becoming available in the former Soviet republics, where most of the crimes carried out by the Nazis living in Australia had been committed.

The Australian government which passed legislation enabling criminal prosecution in Australia but which failed to achieve a single conviction has refused to switch to denaturalization and/or deportation, methods being used with outstanding success, primarily in the United States, but also in Canada. ( Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Nazi War Criminals Prosecution-Annual Status Report April 2001, 18 April 2001.)

The events that have, more recently, surrounded the case of Konrad Kalejs might suggest that Australia was finally getting tough with Nazi war criminals. But, in the end, I suspect that Mark Aarons is right when he says .

It is too little, too late. The highest probability is that the last Nazi in the world will die peacefully in his bed in Australia. We have done virtually nothing, … I can't escape having to draw the conclusion that neither the Latvian or Australian government have any enthusiasm for it.

They've been embarrassed by international opinion highly critical of their inaction. I can't avoid concluding that both governments are crossing their fingers behind their backs that the guy will die in the meantime, and they'll say "oh well, we tried".


from the October 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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