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February 19, 1988 - Image 30

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-02-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

1

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U.S. Strips Ex-Kapo
Of His Citizenship

ARTHUR J. MAGIDA

Special to The Jewish News

T

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April 2-9, 1988






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en months after ,
charges were filed
against him, a
Brooklyn Jew has pleaded
guilty to government charges
that he had brutalized Jewish
prisoners in a Nazi forced-
labor camp during World War
Two.
In exchange for surrender-
ing his U.S. citizenship to a
federal judge in Brooklyn, the
Justice Department agreed
not to deport Jacob Tannen-
baum, 77, because of his ad-
vanced age and the fragility
of his health.
Last August, Tannenbaum
collapsed during the second of
three days of deposition-
taking before federal officials
in Brooklyn. He was hospital-
ized for two weeks for a heart
attack. Physicians for both
sides -subsequently agreed
that a full-scale trial would be
life-threatening to Tannen-
baum.
The government had
charged that Tannenbaum
had been a kapo from Sep-
tember, 1944 through May
1945 in Goerlitz, a small
camp 55 miles east of Dres-
den. Tannenbaum admitted
to government charges that
he had beaten fellow prison-
ers, sometimes "outside the
presence of German SS per-
sonnel." He also acknowl-
edged that he had lied about
his background when he
entered the United States in
1949.
Tannenbaum now retains
citizenship in no country. He
will remain in the United
States as a "permanent resi-
dent."
According to his lawyer,
Manhattan attorney Elihu
Massel, Tannenbaum was
"very disturbed that he had
to give up his American
citizenship. This was the first
country in which he lived
where he wasn't persecuted
as a Jew. But his children
(two sons and a daughter)
were happy he would remain
in the United States and no
longer be under duress. They
understood this was a plea to
save their father's life."
Tannenbaum was born in
Sieniawa, Poland. Con-
scripted into the Polish Army,
he was sent to three Nazi
camps during World War Two.
After some time in a Polish
camp in 1942, he was sent
with other relatively healthy
prisoners to a forced-labor
camp in Galicia. In 1944, he
was sent as a kapo to Goerlitz,

where he supervised about
1,000 prisoners, who mostly
worked in a munitions fac-
tory.
Aside from the issue of
whether Tannenbaum had
lied to get into the United
States 39 years ago, the Tan-
nenbaum case presented
some especially perplexing
moral issues. Among these
was whether Jewish kapos
who beat, killed or otherwise
mistreated prisoners were as
morally culpable as the Nazis
themselves.
The Tannenbaum case was
the first brought by Office of
Special Investigations (OSI)
against a Jewish kapo. OSI is
the adjunct of the Justice
Department created to pro-
secute Nazi-related cases. In
the 1950s, the Immigration
and Naturalization Depart-
ment had sought the deporta-
tions of three Jewish kapos.
Two of these were denied.
Another was deported to
Poland, which refused to ac-
cept him.
Shortly after the OSI filed
charges last May to deport
Tannenbaum, Tannenbaum
and his family told journalists
conflicting stories of his ten
months in Goerlitz. One of
Tannenbaum's sons, Sonny,
said Tannenbaum had told
his family and close friends
that he had, in fact, been a
kapo. But Tannenbaum told
reporters that he only been a
)ersonal aide to the camp
commandant at Goerlitz. His
only privilege different from
other prisoners, he said, was
to occasionally go into town
for supplies.
In late May, The Jewish
News interviewed several sur-
vivors of Goerlitz, who said
Tannenbaum habitually beat
prisoners with a rubber hose,
an iron pipe or his bare fists.
These caused, they said, at
least four deaths.
Leon Hostig, a prisoner in
Goerlitz for about nine
months in 1844 and 1945,
was "terribly disappointed"
by the outcome of the Tannen-
baum case.
"The punishment did not fit
the crime," said Hostig, a
67-year-old resident of
Brooklyn. Hostig has claimed
that Tannenbaum fatally
beat his brother, Avram, dur-
ing the boy's first day in
Goerlitz in September, 1944.
Avram was 19 years old.
Neither Tannenbaum's age
nor his health should have
been a factor in resolving his
case, said Hostig.

"He was a murderous guy,
the only killer in Goerlitz,"

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