The end of the first Nazi-era denaturalization trial held in Manhattan marks the beginning of a long wait for a verdict — a decision many court observers believe may favor the defendant.
But representatives of local Jewish groups are saying that the trial itself, widely covered in the nation’s media capital, may be as important as the verdict for its educational value.
The three-week civil proceeding against Jacob Reimer wrapped up last week in the Southern District of New York Federal Court with Reimer, a Ukrainian-born SS noncommissioned officer during World War II, repeating his declarations of innocence and declaring his love for the Jewish people and the United States. He is accused of taking part in the liquidation of three Jewish ghettos in Poland and participating in a mass killing outside his training base near Lublin, and misrepresenting his background when he applied for U.S. citizenship in 1952.
“Did you conceal any facts from the immigration people when you got your visa?” Reimer, 79, was asked during his last day on the witness stand by his attorney, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
“No, I didn’t.”“Did you believe you had anything to conceal?”
“No, I didn’t.”
Judge Lawrence McKenna said he would issue his verdict, after both sides file post-trial legal motions and attempt to arrange further interviews with potential wartime witnesses in Europe, in several months, maybe as late as winter.
“I doubt that the verdict will be against the defendant, since there were no eyewitnesses,” said one German-born Jewish refugee who attended the court sessions every day. He asked not to be identified by name.
Many of those who crowded into the courtroom’s spectator section, including several Holocaust survivors, echoed his statement. They said the lack of an eyewitness at the trial who could identify Reimer as committing acts of persecution weakened the case brought by the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations — despite the fact that Reimer repeatedly changed his story under OSI cross-examination and admitted that some of his earlier claims were “ridiculous.”
The former Brooklyn resident, retired from a career as a restaurant manager and snack-food distributor, has lived 40 years in upstate Putnam County.
The government was “able to put on a case effectively,” said an expert on OSI prosecutions. “It was pretty much the way these cases go.”
If OSI wins the case — it does a great majority of the time — and subsequent appeals filed by Reimer, he will face deportation proceedings. The entire process can take as long as a decade.
What was most important about the trial, said the emeritus director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Task Force on Nazi War Criminals, Elliott Welles, was “there were children of Holocaust survivors, there were a lot of young people” in attendance. Welles, a survivor of the Riga Ghetto, has observed such trials for two decades.
“The trial being held in New York,” said Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, “made a deep impression on so many different categories of Jews and non-Jews — survivors, children and grandchildren of survivors, other Jews not directly affected by the Holocaust, and those Jews who lived through or were born after those terrible events.
“The fact that this trial took place in New York has worldwide significance. People who did not know about the Holocaust or knew very little about it have learned a great deal from the testimony presented.”
Miller said public interest in the trial increased when Reimer began his testimony. “I’m sure the Jewish community was following this trial closely, if only because of the ample coverage in the print and electronic media. We got a stream of phone calls in the office on a daily basis as to whether the trial was continuing.
“My only regret,” he said, “is that the trial took place in the summer when schools are not in session. My hope is that as the school year is poised to begin, teachers will be able to utilize the record of this trial to more vividly portray the Holocaust and its impact on the Jewish psyche.”
The JCRC, ADL and Simon Wiesenthal Center will design educational programs around the trial after McKenna issues his verdict, spokesmen for the organizations said.
“We will be in contact with OSI concerning the next steps about heightening the consciousness of the Jewish community,” Miller said.
The JCRC is considering the sponsorship of a program titled “The Nazis Among Us” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage-Living Memorial to the Holocaust for students participating in the March of the Living trip to Poland and Israel.
Reimer, during his final questioning by Clark, said he is criticized “all the time” by members of the Jewish community and general public.
“I understand their anger,” he said. “I don’t hold it against them. I pray for them — everyone that prosecutes me.
“God’s way is you love all the people, especially the Jewish people, who were picked by God.”