ST. PETERSBURG — Eli Rosenbaum, renowned prosecutor and investigator of Nazi war criminals, is coming to the area to be honored for his work.
The region is familiar to him.
In 1981, during his second year as a federal prosecutor, Rosenbaum pursued a case involving Lithuanian-American Jurgis Juodis, a former officer in a German-led unit that killed 50,000 men, women and children, most of them Jews. Juodis, an artist, was living in St. Pete Beach.
"Florida is the state with the second highest number of Nazi prosecutions we have done over the years," Rosenbaum said. "Of the 137 we've brought, it turns out that the highest number was 23 in Illinois. Twenty-two were in Florida."
Next week, Rosenbaum, 59, director of human rights enforcement strategy and policy for the Justice Department, will receive the 2015 Loebenberg Humanitarian Award at the Florida Holocaust Museum's "To Life" gala.
"It is very, very special for me, and I'm very grateful," Rosenbaum said of the honor, adding that he was accepting it on behalf of the "fabulous work, the tireless work" of his colleagues.
Holocaust survivor Jerry Rawicki, 87, said to call Rosenbaum's work important is an understatement.
"Now, since we are being diverted by ISIS and other things, it is very important that the crimes of the Holocaust are still being paid attention to," he said.
Rosenbaum's best known investigation centered on Kurt Waldheim, former UN secretary general and president of Austria. His complicity in Nazi war crimes was recounted in a UN War Crimes Commission report.
"When I learned this, I wanted to see the file. I wanted to see if the file still existed," said Rosenbaum, then general counsel for the World Jewish Congress.
"I contacted the UN's archivist and told him I was interested in the files of the UN War Crimes Commission. Then I specifically asked for the file on Kurt Waldheim. After a long pause, he asked, 'You mean, our Mr. Waldheim?' " recalled Rosenbaum, co-author of Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Kurt Waldheim Investigation and Cover-Up.
Rosenbaum grew up on Long Island in a Jewish family that barely mentioned the Holocaust. But the topic came up when he and his late father, who had served in the U.S. Army during World War II, were driving through a blizzard. Rosenbaum said he was about 14 years old.
"We were just talking and he was telling me some of his World War II military stories, then suddenly he said, 'I was sent to Dachau (concentration camp) by my commanding officer the day after its liberation.' I didn't know very much about the Holocaust and I said, 'What did you find?' I'm looking at the road and I didn't get any response. I looked over at my father and I saw that his eyes were welled with tears. He was too choked up to speak. That was the first time I ever saw my father cry. It told me everything that I needed to know at that point."
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes on Twitter.