Eli M. Rosenbaum (born May 8, 1955) is an American and the former Director of the U.S. DOJ Office of Special Investigations (OSI), which was primarily responsible for identifying, denaturalizing, and deporting Nazi war criminals, from 1994 to 2010, when OSI was merged into the new Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section. He is now the Director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy in the new Department of Justice section. He has been termed a "legendary Nazi hunter."
Eli Rosenbaum was born on May 8, 1955. He grew up in Westbury, New York, and graduated from W. Tresper Clarke High School. He graduated summa cum laude in 1976 from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, from which he also received his MBA degree. He came to the Justice Department through the Honors Program after his graduation from Harvard Law School in 1980. Rosenbaum's parents were Irving and Hanni Rosenbaum. His father,who was Jewish and escaped the Nazi regime in 1938 was a World War II veteran of the North African and European Theaters.
After the war, while still serving in the U.S. Army, he questioned former Nazis and collaborators (such as the filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl), some of whom were subsequently tried at Nuremberg and elsewhere. Later, Irving Rosenbaum was a Manhattan-based philanthropist and the Chairman of the former S.E. Nichols Corp. Co-founded by Irving's father, Nichols Corp. owned and operated discount department stores in the eastern United States, competing with Kmart, Walmart, and other companies in that retailing sector. The company went public via an IPO in 1969, and by 1977 it was the 33rd largest discount retailer in the United States as measured by annual sales ($204 million).
Rosenbaum was a trial attorney with OSI from 1980 to 1984. In 1984, he left the Department of Justice to work as a corporate litigator with the Manhattan law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and then as General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress. He later returned to OSI in 1988 where he was appointed Principal Deputy Director and then Director. In introducing the Human Rights Enforcement Act of 2009 on July 20, 2009, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) stated on the floor of the Senate: "Due to OSI’s outstanding work, the U.S. is the only country in the world to receive an ‘‘A’’ rating from the Simon Wiesenthal Center for bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. I especially want to commend Eli Rosenbaum, who has worked at OSI for more than two decades and has been OSI’s director since 1995. OSI’s success is due in large measure to Mr. Rosenbaum’s leadership and personal dedication to holding Nazi perpetrators accountable." On June 19, 1997, Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-NY) praised Rosenbaum's work, and that of others, in connection with the then-ongoing Senate Banking Committee inquiry into looted Holocaust-era assets.
Rosenbaum has been considered a "Nazi hunter" in his professional career and personal life. British historian Guy Walters has termed Rosenbaum “the world’s most successful Nazi hunter,” adding that because of the extensive self-promotion activities of self-styled “private” Nazi-hunters, “It is telling that most readers will not have heard of [him] despite the fact that he and his organization have more than one hundred Nazi ‘scalps’ – which is considerably more than the combined total of Simon Wiesenthal and every other Nazi hunter.” In his book Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America's Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals (Delphinium Books, 2013), Richard Rashke wrote (page 537), "As new revelations about Nazi war criminals and their collaborators find their way into the media, Americans who do care will have Eli Rosenbaum and [former U.S. congresswoman] Elizabeth Holtzman to thank."
The U.S. Justice Department Nazi-hunter character in Jodi Picoult's 2013 novel The Storyteller (which reached #1 on the New York Times fiction bestseller list), about the pursuit of an alleged Nazi war criminal in New England, was based loosely on Rosenbaum. In a Washington Post interview, Picoult called him “a modern-day superhero.” Under his leadership, OSI was called "the most successful government Nazi-hunting organization on earth" (ABC-TV News, March 25, 1995) and "the world's most aggressive and effective Nazi-hunting operation" (The Washington Post, August 27, 1995), and the Simon Wiesenthal Center characterized OSI as the world's only "highly successful proactive prosecution program" in Nazi cases. USA Today reported (January 29, 1997) that OSI possessed "a tremendous success record, [having] uncovered and won more cases than any other Nazi-hunting operation in the world."
In 1997, Rosenbaum was selected by the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School to receive the school's Honorary Fellowship Award, presented annually to one attorney "who has distinguished himself or herself in commitment to public service" by "making significant contributions to the ends of justice at the cost of great personal risk and sacrifice." He has also received the Anti-Defamation League's "Heroes in Blue" award and the Assistant Attorney General's Award for Human Rights Enforcement and the Criminal Division's Award for Special Initiative. Cases investigated and prosecuted under Rosenbaum's direction have resulted in deportations to Europe of Nazi perpetrators subsequently convicted there of participation in tens of thousands of Holocaust murders. On January 11, 2008, he was profiled as the weekly "Making a Difference" feature on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.
Kurt Waldheim controversy
Rosenbaum directed the World Jewish Congress investigation that resulted in the worldwide 1986 exposure of the Nazi past of former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, arguably the most "sensational" uncovering of a Nazi in postwar history. Rosenbaum was the primary author of Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Kurt Waldheim Investigation and Cover-Up, a book which was selected for "Notable Books of 1993" by The New York Times and "Best Books of 1993" by The San Francisco Chronicle and which demonstrates that Waldheim was involved in the commission of Nazi war crimes while serving in the German military as an officer under the Nazi regime and postulates a Soviet-Yugoslav conspiracy to help whitewash his history. After the war, Waldheim became Austria's foreign minister and its United Nations ambassador.
At the time of his exposure at the hands of Rosenbaum, Waldheim had served most prominently as Secretary General of the United Nations and was a candidate for the presidency of Austria (an election that he won in 1987 despite the exposure of his Nazi past). He was never officially considered to be a suspect by the Austrian Government in any war crimes, but he was banned from entering the United States as a result of a U.S. Government investigation in 1986-87 that concluded that he was complicit in the perpetration of Nazi crimes during World War II. Writing in The New York Times on February 16, 2014, Joseph R. Oestreich claimed that the "final blow" to Austria's self-portrayal as a victim of the German Nazi regime, rather than its willing partner, "may have been the election of Kurt Waldheim as president of Austria in 1986, after it had become widely known that he had lied about his complicity in Nazi war crimes."