Nazi war criminals have found haven in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (JTA) — No one knows for sure how many people who persecuted and murdered Jews in the Holocaust made it to the United States.

But officials believe that more than 20 settled in the Philadelphia area, making it one of the top destinations for Nazi war criminals.

Since 1979, the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations has launched civil proceedings against nine such men. Nearly all were denaturalized, and some were ordered deported. Others fled on their own.

Charges against another man were dropped after a key witness died.

Recently, more than 200 students from a Jewish high school rallied outside the home of Jonas Stelmokas, who lost his U.S. citizenship in August 1995.

In 1996, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling.

Yet Stelmokas, who volunteered for a Lithuanian military unit that aided the Nazis in killing 9,200 Jews over a two-day period in 1941, still lives in Lansdowne, Pa.

Fourteen years ago, in another such rally, Jews gathered outside the home of Serge Kowalchuk. They held signs reading, " This murderer cannot live here!"

Courts found that Kowalchuk assisted Nazis in killing thousands of Jews in Ukraine. When he entered the United States in 1950, he settled in Philadelphia.

Kowalchuk ultimately was stripped of his citizenship and fled to Paraguay in 1987.

Kowalchuk, Stelmokas, Arnold Richards Trucis, Nikolaus Schiffer, Feodor Fedorenko, George Theodorovich, Wolodymir Osidach, Johann Breyer: These men with Jewish blood on their hands are now leading new lives in Philadelphia, Jewish groups charge.

According to OSI Director Eli Rosenbaum, more than a dozen other suspected Nazis are under investigation in this area.

Why Philadelphia?

The City of Brotherly Love attracted such men for the same reasons it attracted hordes of immigrants, authorities say.

Philadelphia was perhaps particularly attractive to immigrants from Eastern Europe who began coming here in large numbers through the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century, said Karl Krueger, a librarian at the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia.

Peter Black, a historian with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said Nazi war criminals have lived in any major city with large ethnic blocs.

In the 1980s, several rallies in this area called attention to the presence of possible Nazi war criminals. When the accused were put on trial, courtrooms were packed with Jews of all ages.

Local Jews took to the streets to protest the accused Nazis' ability to live freely in the area. They were often met by Ukrainians or Lithuanians staging counterdemonstrations in defense of their countrymen.

The survivor community here is not ready to let the killers and their accomplices retire in peace.

"I can never accept that," said Abram Shnaper, president of the Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Philadelphia.

"It is a tragedy" that they live here, he said. "We have to do everything we can to make them miserable at least for [the] couple years" of life they have remaining.