The American Rabbi Who Hunted Nazis

April 27, 2017 | Jordan Hiller
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While a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in the 1960s, Barry Dov Schwartz learned of the work of Simon Wiesenthal and offered him his services. On Wiesenthal’s behalf, and alongside his career as a congregational rabbi, Schwartz interviewed numerous survivors and even suspected perpetrators—and, occasionally, went to still greater lengths, as Jordan Hiller writes:

In the spring of 1965, about 30 members of the 500-person-strong American Nazi party discreetly met in a cramped apartment on 114th Street and Broadway in New York City. It had been two decades since the liberation of death camps; . . . Nazis, their conspirators, sympathizers, and passive supporters were alive and well, either in hiding and trying to avoid punishment, or—more often than not—slithering seamlessly back into society.

While a handful of authentic former Nazis were gathered at the New York meeting along with like-minded individuals, so was a Jew. In fact, it was a rabbinical student . . . who moved inconspicuously among them. Naturally, Barry Dov Schwartz had delivered a false name at the door while dressed in the detective’s trench coat he had purchased expressly for the occasion. To avoid eating the sandwiches and drinks he was offered, Schwartz feigned a stomach ailment; [he then] lingered in the back and waited for his moment.

When all were deemed present and the group moved to the living room to discuss the evening’s agenda, Schwartz snuck into the coat closet and rifled through each and every pocket. Opening wallets and scanning identification cards, Schwartz took down names, addresses and any other bit of information that could later help identify and track Nazis. He slipped out of the apartment unnoticed, immediately typed up a letter, and mailed the data to the man who had initially tipped him off about the meeting: Simon Wiesenthal.

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