Eli Rosenbaum, the renowned "Nazi hunter" who led the US government's pursuit of World War II-era war criminals for decades, is now focusing on Russian war criminals—and he says the hunt will be relentless. Rosenbaum, the 67-year-old son of Jewish refugees from Germany, is now leading the Justice Department's months-old War Crimes Accountability Team. He tells the Guardian that the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, which has bipartisan support, will allow the US to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes even when the victims are not Americans. "I know firsthand the frustration of having war criminals here and all you can do is revoke their citizenship and deport them," he says.
Rosenbaum, who helped track down more than 100 Nazi war criminals living in the US, says it could be a long time before people can be prosecuted for the crimes currently being committed in Ukraine—but his experience shows that authorities are willing to spend decades pursing war criminals. "So the message to perpetrators or would-be perpetrators is: if you act on criminal orders or issue criminal orders, you may well have to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder," he says. "Don’t think about being a tourist after the war in most of Europe, because if we know about you, if Ukrainians know about you ... you may just get arrested and extradited." In September, Rosenbaum testified in support of bringing in a statute criminalizing "crimes against humanity."
He said the statute would aid US "prosecution of certain criminal acts, such as enslavement or mass murder, when committed as part of a systematic or widespread attack against a civilian population." Earlier this year Rosenbaum told NPR that investigating Russian war crimes was in some ways more difficult than investigating Nazi crimes, because unlike with postwar German governments, there was no hope of cooperation from the Kremlin. Asked about Russia's claim to be "de-Nazifying Ukraine," he said: "When I hear that, for me, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard times a thousand. It's cruel. It's false. This is not a Nazi government by any stretch of the imagination. I think after almost 40 years of investigating and prosecuting Nazi perpetrators, I know a Nazi when I see one." (Read more Eli Rosenbaum stories.)