Nazi-Era Victims Demand Army, CIA Release Documents on Vatican

Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08pm EDT
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( - Two California attorneys have filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in a bid to have the U.S. Army and CIA release documents relating to alleged Vatican collaboration with Nazi-allied fascists in the wartime Balkans.

The Army's decision earlier this year to withhold more than 250 documents, some at the request of the CIA, was in violation of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, the lawyers contended in their complaint.

Jonathan Levy and Tom Easton are representing elderly Serb, Jewish and Ukrainian survivors of atrocities committed by the Nazi puppet regime in Croatia, the Ustashe, in a class action lawsuit against the Vatican Bank and the monastic Franciscan Order.

Wartime intelligence documents have suggested Ustashe leaders took loot, including gold, silver and jewelry seized from their victims, to the Vatican at the end of the war.

There the assets were allegedly used to help finance an escape route - the "ratline" - for Nazis trying to escape Europe, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which tracks Nazi war criminals.

The Vatican has consistently denied the allegations, while declining to open its unpublished wartime archives despite appeals from Jewish and other groups.

The Swiss National Bank, suspected of acting as a depository for stolen Ustashe loot, has also been named as a defendant in the class action lawsuit, and the lawyers are awaiting a judge's order allowing the case against the Swiss to proceed.

Levy said it was hoped the District Court in San Francisco would order the release of more than 250 documents from files dealing with one Krunoslav Draganavic, a Croatian priest who helped run the "ratline."

Some files had been released as early as the 1980s, when Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie stood trial in France. But a core of others remained withheld on "national security" grounds, he said.

Levy said Draganavic was alleged to have worked at various times for the intelligence services of Croatia, the Vatican, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Britain and the U.S.

The lawyers said in a statement they believed "the withheld documents, most well over 40 years old are highly embarrassing to the Americans, the British, and Vatican."

Among those Holocaust researchers say escaped via the "ratline" between 1945 and the late 1950s was Ustashe leader Ante Pavelic, who made his way to Latin America using papers allegedly provided by the Vatican, and disguised as a priest.

Barbie, known as "the butcher of Lyon," was another reported beneficiary of the "ratline," escaping to Bolivia. It has long been alleged the U.S. used him as an anti-communist agent after the war. A 1983 Justice Department investigation concluded that the U.S. had no relationship with Barbie since he left Europe in 1951.

Barbie was eventually deported to France in 1983, jailed for life several years later for crimes against humanity, and died in prison in 1991.

Another suspected user of the "ratline" was Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of Hitler's "final solution." He was abducted from Argentina by Mossad agents in 1960, convicted at the end of a marathon trial in Israel, and hanged in 1962.

Between 700,000 and 900,000 people died at the hands of the Ustashe regime, which also participated in the systematic Nazi looting of occupied Ukraine.

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