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September 18: The Nazi-Hunter

September 18, 2014
Elliot Welles (Kurt Sauerquell), who headed the Anti-Defamation League’s Task Force on Nazi War Criminals from its founding in 1979 until 2003, was born in Vienna on this date in 1927. He and his mother Anna were deported by the Nazis to Riga, where they executed Anna on a transport bus. Welles then spent years of his boyhood in the Riga ghetto before being interned at the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland. Settling in New York in 1949, he eventually became a co-owner of a restaurant in Yorkville, a German neighborhood in Manhattan, where he began to gather information on former Nazis and their whereabouts. Welles eventually tracked down in Germany the SS officer who had selected his mother for death, and had him prosecuted in 1976. This kind of hunt became Welles’ calling, and he grew, writes Margalit Fox in The New York Times, into “one of the most influential forces in identifying Nazis who had settled in the United States and having them extradited to stand trial abroad.” Among the men he identified and brought to justice were Boleslav Maikovskis, responsible for the mass execution of 200 Latvian villagers during the war, who had settled in Mineola, NY (Maikovskis proved too ill to stand trial and shortly afterwards died), and Josef Schwammberger, a former Nazi labor camp commander who hid in Argentina for forty years before Welles succeeded him having him extradited to Germany, where he was convicted and died in prison. Welles died at 79 in 2006. “Welles spent years trolling dusty archives and marble corridors in the United States, Germany, Austria and elsewhere, painstakingly tracing the whereabouts of men and women who had hoped to vanish into obscurity. He tenaciously pressed reluctant governments around the world to divulge information, to find suspects, to apprehend them and bring them to trial.” —Margalit Fox, The New York Times