Social security benefits worth millions have been paid out to suspected Nazi war criminals, due to a legal loophole. Former Auschwitz guard Jakob Denzinger lived high on the hog. He owned a thriving plastics company in Akron, Ohio. He lived the American dream, drove around in luxury cars, owned investments in oil and real estate, and a lakefront home. In 1989, when the U.S. government attempted to revoke his citizenship, Denzinger fled to Germany, where he lives comfortably, thanks to U.S. taxpayer dollarss. He collects about $1,500 each month in social security payments, almost twice the average take-home pay of Croatian workers.
According to an Associated Press (AP) investigation, Denzinger, 90, is only one of dozens of suspected Nazi SS guards and war criminals who collected millions of dollars in social security payments after being expelled from the United States.
American immigration law bans entry to members of Hitler’s Nazi party, including its extremist SS units. The SS units called Totenkopf, or Death’s Head, were responsible for guarding the Nazi death and concentration camps. They are generally refused entry, but other SS members who played primarily combat roles were more likely to be allowed in.
Others circumvented the restrictions by lying about their history with the SS. Many of these were discovered decades later by the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting unit, the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). Some were intentionally allowed in because their special skills trumped what officials knew about their backgrounds.
It didn’t become public knowledge until the mid-1970s that thousands of Nazi persecutors had immigrated to the U.S. after World War II. It was estimated that as many as 10,000 could be residing in the country. Americans were shocked to discover their former enemies might be their neighbors. Pressure on Congress led to the formation of the OSI in 1979. Its single mission was to track down and expel Nazis who helped persecute civilians.
Because their crimes weren’t committed in the U.S. and rarely were against Americans, Nazi suspects couldn’t be prosecuted in U.S. courts. Therefore, the only other available avenue was to prove they lied to immigration officials, strip them of their citizenships through a drawn out legal process, and then seek extradition or deportation. However, hardly any countries were willing to accept them through deportation or press charges that would have led to extradition.
Due to these difficulties, the Justice Department devised a plan to that encouraged them to leave voluntarily. This meant they would avoid the ordeals of the deportation process, but retain their retirement benefits. Justice Department officials have defended the practice, justifying it as a means of avoiding deportation proceedings that could drag out as long as 10 years.
The OSI even urged several suspects to use U.S. passports for legal travel to allied countries, such as Austria or Germany. Upon arrival there, they would renounce their U.S. citizenships and yet remain eligible to collect Social Security benefits. This practice, called “Nazi dumping” within diplomatic circles, caused outrage at the State Department and in European capitals.
The AP discovered the details about Nazis’ collection of social security benefits after more than two years of research, interviews, and analysis of records received through the Freedom of Information Act and other sources.
Congress passed legislation making “participation in Nazi persecution” a basis for deportation. Unfortunately, the Social Security Act wasn’t changed to make such crimes grounds to terminate benefits. Despite the Justice Department’s denial of using social security payments as a way to remove Nazi suspects, records show the U.S. State Department and the Social Security Administration expressed deep concerns over the OSI’s methods. State officials protested that the OSI was bargaining with suspects to make them leave voluntarily. The AP analysis found that at least 38 of 66 suspects removed from the United States since 1979 still received Social Security benefits. Of the 66 suspects, at least four are alive and collecting U.S. Social Security while living in Europe
Partly due to the OSI’s opposition, legislative attempts to close the Social Security loophole failed 15 years ago. Since then, the AP reports that at least 10 Nazi suspects kept their benefits after exiting. The Social Security Administration confirmed payments to seven deceased Nazi suspects. One suspect who’s still alive was confirmed through an interview with the AP. Two other suspects met the requirements to keep their benefits. The AP discovered evidence in Social Security Administration records that by March 1999, 28 suspected Nazi criminals had collected Social Security payments totaling $1.5 million after being removed from the U.S.
Since then, AP estimates of the payouts reach millions of dollars. Their estimates are based on the number of suspects who qualified, and the three decades that have passed since the original former Nazis inked agreements for exiting the country in exchange for continued benefits
Beneficiaries with long lifespan stand to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments. According to the Urban Institute, a single male who earned an average annual wage of $44,800 and turned 65 in 1990 would receive nearly $15,000 a year in Social Security benefits. That amounts to $375,000 over 25 years, adjusted for inflation. The Social Security Administration denied the AP’s request seeking the total number of Nazi suspects who received benefits and the dollar amounts of such payments.
This information is sure to upset many Americans, especially our disabled vets who have so much difficulty getting assistance from the SSA. While the AP is to be credited for their efforts to bring these facts to light, is it now too late to close this loophole?