Thousands of Nazi collaborators showed up at displaced persons camps in Europe after World War II, posing as refugees, and were brought to the US, where they established new lives. The immigrants, some of whom had been concentration camp guards or operated the gas chambers, went to work in factories or other inconspicuous jobs, often using new names. It was Allan A. Ryan's job to find them. From 1980 to 1983, Ryan led a US Justice Department team of lawyers, investigators, and historians hunting Nazis so they could be deported, the Washington Post reports. Ryan, 77, died Jan. 26 of a heart attack.
"The kind of people we're dealing with were, by and large, very brutal killers for several years in their lives and have turned into model citizens here," Ryan once told the Boston Globe. They were not easy to find, he said, after years of not calling attention to themselves. "They don't have Nazi museums in their basements." Ryan was called "the nation's foremost Nazi hunter" in the New York Times, but he said the job was more dry research than cloak-and-dagger missions. "It's more sifting through paper," he said. Because US law didn't permit prosecutions for suspected roles enabling the Holocaust, Ryan's office charged suspects with lying on immigration and naturalization applications so they could be stripped of their US citizenship. The next step was deporting them to face trial elsewhere.
Ryan also investigated whether US intelligence had helped former SS officer Klaus Barbie reach South America. He found they did. Ryan later worked as a lawyer at Harvard University, taught law, and ran a legal services nonprofit that helps veterans. For years, there had been little appetite, in or out of government, for uncovering Nazis in the US. Ryan thought the reasons included antisemitism and broad indifference toward the fate of Jews in the Holocaust. Ryan said that changed eventually, and he talked about it in one of his books. "No single event was responsible," he wrote. "It was the coming-of-age of a new generation, a generation that had not lived through the war and had pressing questions for those who had." (Read more Nazi hunter stories.)