U.S. joins, Israel quits crusade against former Nazi physician

A Marin County man's campaign to force Germany to indict a suspected Nazi war criminal has taken one step forward and one step back.

The hunt moved ahead with a resolution introduced recently in the U.S. House of Representatives that asks Germany to investigate Dr. Hans Joachim Sewering. The same resolution is set to be introduced in the U.S. Senate his month.

A physician and former SS member, Sewering has been accused of sending 900 disabled Catholic children to their deaths by transferring them to a so-called "healing center" in the early 1940s. He has repeatedly denied knowing the purpose of the center.

The congressional action pleased Dr. Michael Franzblau, a Greenbrae dermatologist, medical historian and Anti-Defamation League national commissioner who has been pursuing the former German medical association chief for four years.

"It will encourage the Germans to look within themselves and do the right thing, which they have not done," Franzblau said.

In March, however, Franzblau also suffered a setback when he received the Israeli police's final reply to his request that the Jewish state officially urge Germany to investigate Sewering.

"Since Dr. Sewering is a German citizen, living there, we are of no authority to deal with the matter. We fully understand your feelings and your blessed initiative and wish you success in finding a way to fulfill your desire that this man would be brought to justice," stated a brief letter from Miri Drucker, an Israeli national police staff sergeant major and investigator.

Drucker, who works in the section for international and Nazi crime within the Israeli police's National Unit for Serious Crime Investigations, faxed the missive March 3.

Franzblau said he was disappointed and angry, after waiting more than three years for a formal Israeli answer.

"They're kissing me off," he said. "I am a supporter of the state of Israel. But on this issue, they've been very short-sighted."

The doctor added that he didn't ask Israel to assume jurisdiction — only to request that the German state of Bavaria, which has jurisdiction, pursue the matter.

He won't give up on campaigning for Israeli support, however. Franzblau next plans to turn to the two Holocaust survivors in the Knesset, Shevah Weiss of Labor and Avraham Herschson of Likud.

Still, the Israeli police response also reinforced Franzblau's belief that the Israeli and German governments have reached a "tacit agreement" not to pursue Nazi war criminals and that "American Jews are not taken seriously by Israel."

Nimrod Barkan, Israel's consul general in San Francisco, has countered the accusation of complicity by insisting that no "conspiracy" exists between Israel and Germany.

Barkan declined to discuss the Israeli police decision, explaining that he didn't need to add anything to the official government response.

Meanwhile, the introduction of a resolution into the 105th Congress has once again raised Franzblau's hopes.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) are sponsoring the new legislation, which calls on the German government to conduct a formal investigation into the case.

Woolsey praised Franzblau for his "relentless" pursuit of otherwise forgotten atrocities.

"Perhaps with the weight of Congress behind Michael, we can finally persuade the German government to fully investigate Dr. Sewering and hold him accountable for his actions," Woolsey said.

She expects to gather bipartisan support for the resolution and hopes to bring it to the House floor for a vote as soon as possible.

The U.S. government has no legal powers over Bavaria, where Sewering lives. But Franzblau believes that if the Congress passes such a resolution, it would definitely influence the Germans.

"It has the power of moral suasion," he said. "The purpose is to demonstrate the deep, deep commitment of the Congress to human rights and that war criminals, wherever they are, should be punished."

Both Woolsey and Santorum introduced similar resolutions into the 104th Congress last year, but that session adjourned before any votes were taken.

The congressional resolution and Israeli decision are the latest twists in Franzblau's four-year campaign against Sewering. It started in early 1993 when public pressure over the accusations of euthanasia forced Sewering to withdraw as president-elect of the World Medical Association.

Franzblau has since traveled to Germany five times because of the case, paid for a $62,500 full-page ad about Sewering in the New York Times, and appeared on a CBS "60 Minutes" segment about Sewering last fall.

He began asking for Israel's support in fall 1994, when he wrote to President Ezer Weizman about Sewering. Weizman's aide replied in spring 1995 and summer 1996, telling Franzblau that the matter had been turned over to Israeli police.

After waiting for more than three years for an official answer, Franzblau went public with his frustration in January.

Franzblau, who lost more than two dozen relatives in the Holocaust, said he won't give up now — and he does not believe he is fighting an impossible battle.

He not only wants the German government to prosecute the 81-year-old Sewering, who lives in Dachau, the site of a former concentration camp. He also wants the German medical establishment to finally acknowledge its role in the Holocaust and to educate a new generation of doctors about their predecessors' crimes.

"My actions," he said, "aren't like Don Quixote's."