How the Liberals sheltered Nazis

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How the Liberals sheltered Nazis

By Norm Dixon

The return of Konrad Kalejs, an Australian citizen deported from Canada as a World War II Nazi collaborator and leading member of a death squad responsible for the slaughter of 20,000 people, starkly highlights the hypocrisy of the Coalition parties.

In July, the Howard government sought to prevent former US Black Panther militant Lorenzo Ervin visiting Australia because, it claimed, he was not of "good character". Yet, as Kalejs' arrival dramatically exposed, Coalition governments have for decades sheltered Nazi collaborators, some accused of horrific crimes. Many of them joined the Liberal Party and became influential within it.

The respected Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which tracks down Nazi fugitives, estimates that there could be as many as 400 Nazis in Australia who committed serious crimes during World War II.

Kalejs was a company commander in the security police after Latvia's invasion by the Nazis in 1941. The squad, dubbed the Arajs Kommando after its brutal leader, conducted a reign of terror, raping, assaulting and massacring Jews, Roms (Gypsies), Communists and partisans throughout Latvia and parts of Russia.

In just two days in 1941, 27,000 Jews from the Riga ghetto were murdered. Kalejs was in charge of concentration camp guards who brutalised, overworked and murdered inmates.

In November 1950, Kalejs arrived in Australia as a "displaced person" (DP) and was placed in a position of authority at the Bonegilla migrant camp near Wodonga. In 1957, he was granted citizenship.

Journalist Mark Aarons, in his 1986 ABC radio documentaries Nazis in Australia and his book Sanctuary (Mandarin, Melbourne, 1990), has outlined in detail how Australia became a refuge for Nazi collaborators and criminals.

In 1945, DP camps in US- and British-controlled areas contained not only hundreds of thousands of victims and war refugees but also many thousands of central and eastern European pro-Nazis, together with their leaders, who had fled the advance of the Red Army.

Official policy was to arrest and return war criminals, quislings (senior officials who helped the Nazis) and traitors (non-officials who aided the Nazis) to their countries of origin. These people were categorised as "black".

The overwhelming majority were genuine victims of Nazism or refugees, classified "white". Only"whites" were eligible for International Refugee Organisation (IRO) assistance to emigrate.

While publicly promising to return war criminals, quislings and traitors against whom a case could be made, Britain and the US laundered thousands of Nazis through the IRO screening system. Many ex-Nazis gained positions in the IRO bureaucracy, assisting their cohorts to emigrate.

The Allies progressively, and secretly, raised the level of proof needed for deportation, so that by 1948 all but a handful of Nazi collaborators had, in effect, been amnestied. The Cold War had begun and yesterday's enemies were seen as today's allies.

Labor's role

Between 1948 and 1951, 180,000 DPs resettled in Australia. The Labor government's motivation was to overcome a serious labour shortage. The economy needed unskilled workers, tradespeople, technicians and scientists.

The Commonwealth Investigation Service (the predecessor of ASIO) reported to the government that it had discovered telltale scars beneath new arrivals' armpits where Nazi SS identification tattoos had been removed.

Immigration minister Arthur Calwell described the CIS reports as a "farrago of nonsense" and declared, "Hasty conclusions as to the security risk of certain classes of migrants ... do much harm not only to worthy people but to our immigration plans". The clear message to Australian security and immigration officials, in Europe and at home, was that detection of former Nazis must take a back seat.

Complaints by newly arrived migrants, IRO officials aboard Australia-bound ships, journalists and the Jewish community about former Nazi collaborators being among the DPs, rampant anti-Semitism, racism and open far-right political activity were disregarded or the subject of superficial investigation.

The only rules rigorously applied were the Labor government's decisions that no more than 25% of any nationality arriving could be Jewish, and that mainly left-wing Spanish anti-fascists be excluded.

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The Menzies Liberal government, elected on December 10, 1949, was fired by a zeal to crush communism at home and abroad. In 1950, it attempted to legislate to ban the Communist Party. In 1951, it narrowly lost a referendum to ban the CP. The Liberals were not prepared to reveal former Nazis, who had now been transformed into "anticommunists".

Protected

The first actions of the new immigration minister, Harold Holt, set the pattern. Survivors in Australia of the Auschwitz concentration camp discovered that Heinrich Brontschek, a notorious member of the camp's collaborationist Jewish police, had also entered as a DP. They charged that Brontschek "was responsible for many deaths and vicious cruelty to internees".

The government refused to investigate the charges and instead concentrated on a claim that Brontschek was wanted by the Dutch government for war crimes. Satisfied that this was not the case, Holt cleared Brontschek of all charges.

In case after case, the Menzies government and its security officials ignored or minimised charges, bending over backwards to clear suspected Nazis, often only on the basis of the accused's own denial and claim to be "anticommunist". If those reporting Nazis were considered leftists, it was enough to have the charges dismissed without further investigation.

Even when the accused admitted collaboration, little was done. Stanislaw Mozina confessed to being a volunteer for the Domobrans, the SS-commanded home guard operating in Nazi-occupied Slovenia. The Domobrans committed widespread atrocities.

The CIS cleared Mozina because he was "definitely anti-Communist and anti-Tito, and it is considered that he would have joined any movement to combat Communism".

While the Menzies government's stated policy in 1950 was that "no person who had fought against the Allies would be allowed to emigrate to Australia", a blind eye was turned to many former Nazi collaborators. Persistent reports of open Nazi activity in migrant camps were disregarded.

In 1950, the government of Yugoslavia asked Australia to extradite Branislav Ivanovic. From 1942 to 1944, Ivanovic was transport and communications minister in the Nazi puppet government of Serbia. He organised the spy network against the partisans and was a close confidante of quisling leader Milan Nedic.

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Ivanovic was a leader of the fascist Zbor movement, which formed the core of the bloodthirsty Serbian Volunteer Corps.

Ivanovic arrived in Australia as a DP in 1949. His identity papers named him as Branimir Ivanovic, not Branislav. On the basis of this anomaly, and knowing Ivanovic's true identity and history, the Australian government simply lied to Belgrade in a letter, "It has not been possible to identify this person in Australia".

ASIO recruits

In 1951, Yugoslavia requested the return of two alleged war criminals, Milorad Lukic and Mihailo Rajkovic. Both had denounced Communists and partisans to the Nazis.

ASIO found them in Perth, where they were active in émigré politics, Lukic editing an anticommunist, pro-Liberal newspaper. ASIO said the two were "infinitely less trouble to this organisation than the great body of their fellow immigrants. They are unceasing in their campaign against Communism ... They can and do assist ASIO to the limit of their ability." Holt refused the extradition request.

ASIO recruited "anticommunists" to spy on left-wing migrants and the Australian left and to keep tabs on the migrant far right. In cooperation with US and other western intelligence agencies, ASIO recruited former Nazis to infiltrate their now communist-run homelands. While ASIO obsessively investigated any migrant with even a hint of left-wing sympathies — some were refused citizenship until 1972 — former Nazi collaborators were granted citizenship with few qualms.

Emboldened, Nazi and far-right formations openly organised within migrant communities. These included the Hungarian Arrow Cross, the Slovakian Hlinka Guard, the Croatian Ustasha, the Romanian Iron Guard and followers of the former Nazi governments of the Ukraine, Belorussia and the Baltic states.

These groups championed puppet leaders appointed by Hitler and celebrated the "independence" that came on the point of Nazi bayonets. They were often anti-Semitic and virulently anticommunist; many sent fighters and funds to wage guerilla warfare "behind the Iron Curtain".

These organisations formed an umbrella group called the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations. The ABN was a branch of the CIA-funded parent "peak council" of pro-Nazi turned anticommunist organisations in Europe. Some decades later, the international ABN mutated into the far-right World Anti-Communist League based in Taiwan.

Welcomed

Former Nazis were also welcomed into the Liberal Party. In 1953, Viktor Padanyi and his Nazi Arrow Cross supporters formed a Hungarian branch of the Liberal Party. The ABN's first president, Laszlo Megay, was by the mid-'50s a leader of the Liberal Party's Migrant Advisory Council.

The UN War Crimes Commission had listed Megay as a wanted war criminal. Known as the "mass murderer of Ungvar", as mayor of Ungvar Megay implemented the Nazis' horrific anti-Semitic repression.

In 1944, the town's 25,000 Jews were rounded up and confined to the brick works and lumber yard. They were forced to live in the open without food, racked by dysentery and typhoid, for several weeks before being herded into railway cars and sent to Auschwitz. Witnesses said they saw Megay visit the camps almost daily, often drunk, where he beat and robbed inmates.

Megay was arrested by the Allies in 1946 as a war crimes suspect but a year later was released by the US despite its knowing his record. The Hungarian government requested Megay's extradition in 1948, but the US refused on the grounds that Budapest had not provided sufficient evidence.

Despite Megay's name appearing in several lists of war criminals, Australian screening officers allowed him to enter Australia, claiming to be a victim of Nazism. Megay arrived in 1950 and almost immediately was president of the ABN's Hungarian Liberation Movement.

In 1957, after questions were asked in parliament, ASIO investigated Megay and, true to form, exonerated him. Liberal immigration minister Townley lied to parliament, saying there was "no evidence to support the allegations" and that Megay "was cleared by the War Crimes Commission in 1947".

For good measure, he added that Megay had never been a member of the German Nazi Party or served in the German Army — two claims that had never been made in the first place.

In an obituary published in the September 1959 Australian Liberal, Megay was lauded as "bitterly and energetically opposed to Communism". The article blithely mentioned that he was once mayor of Ungvar, but politely omitted his role in rounding up people and sending them to their deaths.

Migrant Advisory Council

The Liberals' Migrant Advisory Council's leadership included Constanin Untaru, the treasurer in the Nazi Iron Guard's Romanian National Government, Fabijan Lovokovic of the Croatian Ustasha and Mikhas Zuy, a senior official in the Belorussian quisling regime. The MAC adopted motions sponsored by the ABN and worked closely with it to have Captive Nations Week endorsed by the Australian government.

Many senior Liberals regularly appeared on platforms during the annual Captive Nations Week, first observed in 1965, including future prime minister Billy McMahon and a future NSW premier, Eric Willis. Captive Nations Week remained a cause célebrè of the far right, supported by the League of Rights, B.A. Santamaria's National Civic Council and the Coalition far right.

By the late 1970s, the Liberal Ethnic Council — as the MAC had become, now led by Lyenko Urbanchich, a former leader of the Slovenian Domobrans — was a major force in the NSW Liberal Party, controlling up to 30% of the votes at the 800-member state council. Urbanchich's power was checked in 1979 when ABC radio broadcast a documentary by Mark Aarons that revealed his past.

While the Liberal Ethnic Council was abolished, former members still have influence. Today, Urbanchich is secretary of the Homebush North Olympic Branch and attended a recent meeting of the Liberal state council in Bathurst. Urbanchich and his supporters are prominent in the latest round of faction fighting within the NSW Liberals.

In 1961, the Liberal government moved to close the book on Nazi collaborators once and for all. The Soviet Union requested the extradition of an Estonian war criminal. Attorney general Garfield Barwick refused the request, telling parliament, "The time has come to close the chapter ... [and] enable men to turn their backs on past bitternesses and to make a new life for themselves and for their families in a happier community".

Conceding that Australia's screening for Nazis was "not infallible", he added that those "who have been allowed to make their homes here must be able to live, in security, new lives under the rule of law". Barwick, in effect, declared a complete amnesty for Nazi mass murderers residing in Australia.

As Kalejs' return so clearly shows, that amnesty remains in effect.