"I take great offense
when people challenge
our motives," says
Neal Sher, chief of the
Office of Special
ARTHUR J. MAGIDA
Special to The Jewish News
FRIDAY. APRIL 15. 1988
krainians are after him, Ed Meese is
after him, ultra-anti-communists are
after him, former White House
Communications Director Pat Buchanan is
Where, oh, where, will Neal Sher find
shelter from these people who say he is
subverting American justice and playing
into the hands of the KGB?
Right where he is. Doing what he's
doing. Hunting Nazis, prosecuting Nazis,
shipping Nazis out of the U.S. and right
back where they came from three or four
The hell with the Ukrainians, Meese,
Buchanan and all the ultra-anti-Commies.
Neal Sher has his own troops lined up
behind him: Just about every member of
Congress, Holocaust historians and
survivors, district attorneys in Brooklyn
and elsewhere, moralists and clergy, Jews,
sensible non-Jews and the "Jewish lobby."
Sher — a dapper dresser and an articu-
late lawyer adept at Washington power
jockeying — is chief of the Office of Special
Investigations (OSI), the wing of the
Justice Department mandated in 1979 to
prosecute ex-Nazis living in the United
States. lb date, OSI has deported about 19
former Nazis out of the country and
stripped another 27 of their U.S.
citizenship. About 30 cases are pending
and 600 files have been closed. Another
600 remain to be investigated.
Of the approximately 70 cases OSI has
filed since its inception, only one — a 1984
case against a Latvian charged with killing
Jews — has been decided in favor of the
Despite this record, rumors are floating
through Washington that some
Administration officials, notably Attorney
General Ed Meese, would be pleased if
Sher left his post.
In a rare interview, Sher told The
Detroit Jewish News he was not aware of
these rumors, and he talked about how his
department goes about its work in the face
Several Washington insiders said Sher
has not endeared himself to Meese,
especially after their maneuvering last
year over Karl Linnas, a former Estonian
concentration camp supervisor who had
been living on Long Island since 1951. He
was slated to be deported last year to the
Soviet Union, where he had been sentenced
in absentia to death. Meese's last minute
efforts to ship Linnas to Panama were
exposed in the press and embarrassed the
"Meese made it look as if the Adminis-
tration was trying to undermine Neal's
job," said a Capitol Hill staffer.
Linnas was finally deported to the USSR
last April. He died in a Soviet hospital in
Of the Meese-Sher contretemps over
Linnas, said one Capitol Hill insider, "Neal
got good press for the [Justice]
Department, but not the way the Admin-
istration would want him to. And Meese
looked awful. Neal's 'shop' is one of the few
bright spots in a department whose
attorney general can only say he has not
yet been indicted."
Another Washington scenario delineates
a three-part deal that Meese reportedly
agreed to last January: Linnas would be
handed over to the Soviets, Austrian
President Kurt Waldheim would be placed
on the Justice Department's "watch list"
— and Sher would be fired.
The first two occurred — reportedly
against Meese's will. But Sher remains.
Ukrainians, Karl Linnas
and Pat Buchanan
If the rumor about the triple deal is true,
Sher's survival at OSI is either a testimony
to his political and professional savviness,
to the quality of OSI's work — or to
Meese's wise move not to generate any
more flack after headlines announced he
was embroiled in the still-emerging
Sher is "not too upset" about opposition
to OSI. "We do our work in the courts, we
are sustained by the courts, we have
established our credibility in the courts,"
he said. "That we are so much under attack
is a testimony to our success."
Sher, 40, has been with OSI since its
inception. He was formerly a Washington
attorney specializing in federal litigation,
mostly labor cases.
Walter Rockier, OSI's first director,
offered Sher a position with OSI in 1979.
Rockier, said Sher, "didn't know what it
would do for my career and it would clearly
mean a sizable reduction in income. But I
realized that turning it down would be
something I would regret for the rest of my
Sher became OSI's deputy director in
1980 and its director three years later.
Since then, OSI has filed about 50 cases.
Born in Queens, New York, of Jewish
working-class parents, Sher was the first
in his family to attend college. Unable "on
a government salary" he says, to now make
financial contributions to his alma mater,
Cornell University, he teaches — for gratis
— an undergraduate course at the college
on "The Holocaust and Jurisprudence."