Father of Joint Chiefs nominee was an officer in the SS General Shalikashvili's father fought with Nazis but was no war criminal

August 28, 1993|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The father of Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, President Clinton's choice to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a Nazi collaborator in World War II who was rewarded with an officer's commission in the Waffen )) SS, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said yesterday.

According to his unpublished memoirs, the late Dimitri Shalikashvili appears to have been so driven to fight the Communists who seized his Georgian homeland that he hoped working with the Nazis would help defeat a common enemy, Rabbi Marvin Hier said in a phone interview from the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Ironically, according to the memoirs, the elder Mr. Shalikashvili was rushed to the front line in Normandy, France, during the D-Day invasion to confront the forces his son would later command as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's supreme allied commander in Europe.

Rabbi Hier, whose group hunts down Nazi war criminals, said he was not aware of any evidence linking the elder Mr. Shalikashvili to any specific wartime atrocities, SS activities or military engagements. Nonetheless, he said, "I believe he was definitely a collaborator."

The rabbi, the Clinton administration and a senior aide to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will consider General Shalikashvili's confirmation next month, all dismissed the information as irrelevant to his bid to succeed Gen. Colin L. Powell as Joint Chiefs chairman.

Wiesenthal center officials said they want the government to make a "full disclosure" of how the family of a Nazi SS officer could end up in Peoria, Ill., after the war.

John was 8 years old when his family fled in a cattle car from Nazi-occupied Poland to Germany ahead of the Soviet advance in 1944, said President Clinton, who was visibly moved by the family story when he announced the nomination Aug. 11. John's family entered the United States in 1952, when he was 16.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Les Aspin issued a statement saying that the general's "superb record of achievement in the U.S. Army speaks for itself."

The four-star general declined through an aide to comment directly about his father.

Navy Capt. Michael A. Doubleday, a Pentagon spokesman, said the general knew his father served in the Georgian Legion, which was controlled by the German army, but had not been aware of any connection with the SS.

The Wiesenthal center found the memoirs and other family papers in the archives of the Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. The search was prompted by an inquiry from the newsletter Defense Daily, which published the story yesterday.

The nomination "should not be judged on the basis of what his father did," Rabbi Hier said. "Whatever Dimitri Shalikashvili did during World War II cannot be attached to his son, who has earned the right as a patriotic American to be judged on his own merits and deeds."

Hoover archivists said three boxes of writings by Dimitri Shalikashvili -- much of it in Russian -- were donated in 1980 to the institution by his widow, who has since died.

The archivists took exception to Rabbi Hier's interpretation of written references to the Waffen SS, Adolph Hitler's elite shock troops that terrorized Europe as the enforcers of Nazi doctrine.

"He wasn't a storm trooper," said Charles Palm, a Hoover official. "If you read carefully, you'll see he wasn't a Nazi sympathizer, he wasn't anti-Semitic."

General Shalikashvili, who talks infrequently about his past, has told friends that his father, a native of the Georgian capital of Tiblisi, fought with the czarist White Russians in a losing campaign against the Communists.

And contrary to some accounts, his mother, Maria Pappenheim, wasn't Polish, having been born in St. Petersburg to Russian and German parents, a close friend said. She and Dimitri Shalikashvili met in Warsaw, where a colony of Georgian expatriates sprang up and their son, John, was born in 1936.

In his memoirs, Dimitri Shalikashvili said he served in the Polish Army and headed the Georgian colony when captured by the Germans in September, 1939. But he was released in late December, landed an unspecified "administrative job" with the aid of his wife's German relatives and helped the Nazis recruit fellow Georgians.

"He describes a summer vacation in 1942 in a villa outside Warsaw," Rabbi Hier said. "Remember, this is in the lion's den. You don't do this unless you have special credentials."

nTC Dimitri Shalikashvili wrote that he was called to join the Georgian Legion in late 1942. By the end of 1944, he had moved his family from Warsaw to Berlin, where John went to school.

After postings in Paris and Berlin, his unit went to Italy, where he became a major in the Waffen SS in late 1944, Rabbi Hier said.

Mr. Palm, of the Hoover Institution, said control of the Georgian Legion, which had remained intact, had shifted from the regular German army to the Waffen SS in Italy.

After the war, Dimitri Shalikashvili learned he would have trouble moving his family to the United States because of his Nazi ties, Rabbi Hier said.

But papers show that a newly-opened U.S. consulate in Munich allowed George Luthy, an American relative in Peoria, to sign an affidavit vouching for Dimitri Shalikashvili, clearing the way for him, his wife and three children to get their visas in 1952, the rabbi said.

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