Sol Littman   Letter 21   22-Oct-1999   Why you never caught any Nazis
"But how is it possible for Canada's leading Nazi hunter never to have discovered a single Nazi?" Lubomyr Prytulak
  October 22, 1999

Sol Littman
Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center
8 King Street East, Suite 710
Toronto, ON

Tel: (416) 864-9735
Fax: (416) 864-1083

Sol Littman:

Something missing from your speech:

Given that you are credited with being Canada's foremost Nazi hunter, one cannot help noticing something that is missing from your Tryzub and Swastika Speech of 31Aug97 and that is the list of all the Nazi war criminals that you have helped uncover.  Never mind a list you don't mention even a single Nazi war criminal.  This omission seems inadvisable, because it invites the skeptical listener to wonder whether during your entire Nazi-hunting career you have not as yet had the good fortune of actually running across a Nazi war criminal.

But how is it possible for Canada's leading Nazi hunter never to have discovered a single Nazi war criminal?  It is while reading your letter to me of 12Oct99 that I hit upon a plausible explanation of this paradox and that explanation is that you are not very good at hunting war criminals.  In fact, you are so bad at it, that you are guaranteed never to find any.  Perhaps if, even at this late date, you upgraded your sleuthing techniques, there might still remain some chance of improved performance.

What might Israel Roitman and his collaborators be thinking today?

My impression that your sleuthing techniques stand in need of upgrading arises from your letter's description of the steps you took to track down SMERSH sadist, torturer, and murderer Israel Roitman.  First of all, let us imagine what may be Israel Roitman's situation today.  The Ukrainian Archive publication of accusations against him for war crimes occurred as long ago as 13Jul99 and 25Jul99.  Thus, in the intervening three months, it is plausible that Israel Roitman would have learned that his reminiscences of torture and murder were not greeted by all Canadians with admiration and sympathy, and that some Canadians even went so far as to conclude from his boast of repeated torture and murder that he is a torturer and a murderer.  Israel Roitman's becoming apprised of this surprising Canadian reaction so utterly opposite to what he had gotten used to in Moscow would have the effect of making him apprehensive of prosecution, and desirous of retiring from public view, and even of going into hiding.  At the same time, the periodical Our View which in May 1998 saw nothing wrong with publishing Israel Roitman's boastful reminiscences of torture and murder would by October 1999 similarly have come to realize that by Canadian standards, having provided a forum for the dissemination of Israel Roitman's reminiscences was a mistake, and so Our View would have felt vulnerable to criticism, and so would have wanted to minimize its own culpability by distancing itself from Israel Roitman.  In view of these probabilities, let us examine how you applied your war-criminal-hunting skills to the tracking down of Israel Roitman.

The blood hound takes off after the scent:

You start out by saying:

Although I don't owe you any accounting and I don't request any from you I will tell you, nevertheless, what I learned of Israel Roitman and how I learned it.  First, I telephoned the editor and asked him for Roitman's whereabouts.  I was told he was in Moscow.  I then inquired how it happened that The Echo would interview someone in Moscow.  I gained the impression that the story was "borrowed" from some journal published in Russia.

A good sleuth dwells in the world of the concrete:

Your account gains credibility to the degree that it supplies concrete detail.  Thus, saying that you telephoned "the editor" is not as good as indicating what the name of the person you spoke to was.  Possibly you spoke to "A. Rain" the Editor-in-Chief, or maybe A. Iohvidov the Co-Editor, or maybe someone else who worked in an editorial capacity.  On top of specifying who you spoke to would be good to indicate the date and time of your telephone call.  In an area as important as war crimes investigation, all telephone conversations should be taped, and your supplying a transcript of the conversation would have been most reassuring.

A good sleuth doesn't phone the wrong newspaper:

The name of the publication in which Israel Roitman published his boastful reminiscences of torture and murder is not The Echo, but rather Our View.  Assuming that you did not call the wrong newspaper, and assuming that in your letter to me you are not reporting an idealized version of a dialogue in which an employee from The Echo did not know what you were talking about, then I would point out that your getting the name of the newspaper wrong leaves the impression that you have a surprisingly weak grasp of the facts, and as well that you have a sloppy attitude toward writing a letter I would have recommended that you have the Our View article beside you as you wrote, along with the Ukrainian Archive translation of the relevant segment of it, so that you would be able to verify the facts as you went along.

A good sleuth is not content with mere impressions:

You say that "I gained the impression that the story was 'borrowed' from some journal published in Russia."  A good sleuth would not have rested content with a mere impression, but would have used the impression to formulate the explicit question of whether the Israel Roitman article had been copied from a Russian journal or not.

A good sleuth doesn't always believe a "we've never seen this guy" answer, especially when it comes from the quarry's friends:

Also, a sharper war crimes investigator would have kept in mind that the motivation of the Our View staff assuming that's who you did speak to would be to distance themselves from Israel Roitman, and so this sharper investigator would have followed up with several questions: (1) What was the name of the Russian journal in which the Roitman article originally appeared, and what was the date of publication?  (2) Could Our View provide a copy of that original article in the Russian journal?  (3) Why did Our View not acknowledge the original source in its republication of the Israel Roitman article?  (4) What was Our View's motivation in republishing an article from a Russian journal which featured a story of a SMERSH agent who participates in the torture and murder of a Ukrainian farmer, and who boasts that this was only the first of many such acts?  (5) Who was it that brought the original Israel Roitman article to the attention of Our View staff?  These are among the further questions that a more competent war crimes investigator would have asked.

If Our View no longer had a copy of the original article, but was able to provide the name of the Russian journal (the date of original publication would be of help), then of course a library search for the article should have been conducted.

A good war crimes sleuth speaks several languages:

You will notice that under the Our View masthead and addresses are listed instructions in Russian to readers who wish to contribute articles.  Thus, despite what you say, it still appears more likely that Israel Roitman is a reader of Our View, and that he responded to the paper's solicitation of materials by submitting his article to the paper for publication.  The Our View editor that you talked to may have lied to you when he said that the Israel Roitman article was copied from a Russian journal.  If you don't understand any Russian, the fact that Our View solicits articles from its readers is less likely to come to your attention.

But now continuing on with your description:

Not satisfied, I then checked Toronto's telephone directory.  There I found an I. Roitman.  I telephoned and spoke to I. Roitman himself.  He convinced me readily that his first name was not Israel and that he had never been a partisan.

A good sleuth is aware of spelling idiosyncrasies:

Had you read the Ukrainian Archive discussion of the Israel Roitman article more carefully, you would have noted that "Roitman" is a Ukrainian Archive transliteration from the Russian, and that other English spellings are possible, as for example Roytman or conceivably even Rojtman.  Furthermore, so irregular are the spellings that are adopted for English versions of foreign names that one can even imagine that the English version in use by the SMERSH agent in question could be Israel Rothman, or something equally deviant from the Russian pronunciation of his surname.  Thus, your search for "Israel Roitman" only was skimpy.

A good sleuth does not depend on finding his quarry in the phone book:

Israel Roitman (assuming that is how he spells his name), is by now elderly, and so may live with a relative in whose name the telephone is registered, so that possibly the telephone that reaches him is in the name of K. Roitman, or S. Roitman, or whatever.  Or perhaps Israel Roitman does not have a telephone, or has an unlisted number, or lives with someone bearing an entirely different surname.

A good sleuth does not restrict his search to only one of the two regions in which the quarry might live:

Although Our View is published in Toronto, it has a branch office in Washington, and is probably distributed not only in the Toronto area, but in the Washington area as well, so that if Israel Roitman selected Our View as the periodical in which to publish his article because he lives in one of the Our View distribution areas and is a reader of Our View, then it may be that he resides in the USA, and so that a more complete search for him than you conducted would include some parts of the USA.

A good sleuth remembers his quarry's characteristics:

Israel Roitman's article did not say that he was a partisan; it did say that he was a SMERSH agent.  Therefore, that the person you spoke to denied being a partisan is not helpful.  Too bad you didn't ask I. Roitman the more germane question of whether he had been an agent of SMERSH.  You're not going to get good results hunting war criminals unless you ask the right questions, and that takes preparation.

A good sleuth asks for ID:

Better than being told by I. Roitman that his name was not Israel Roitman would have been to find out what he claimed his first name was.

You say that the individual you spoke to readily convinced you that his first name was not Israel, but what you must mean by this is that the individual asserted that his first name was not Israel, and you readily chose to believe him.  Better would have been to talk to I. Roitman face to face and to ask to see identification.  As I have warned above, Israel Roitman could easily have been pre-warned that some Canadians viewed him as a war criminal, and it would not require brilliance on his part to simply deny to any caller that his given name was Israel.

A good sleuth does not overlook the significance of foreign accent:

You say that you spoke to I. Roitman himself, but do not indicate whether from his accent you were able to tell that he was a recent immigrant or not.  If he spoke English without an accent, or with very little accent, then that alone would guarantee that you were not speaking to the Israel Roitman who boasts of his sadism as a SMERSH agent in Ukraine.  However, if you spoke to an individual whose English indicated that he was a recent immigrant, then a sharp war-crimes sleuth would have asked for particulars of where he had immigrated from, and what occupations he had held in his place of origin.  As foreign accent is a valuable indicator, your failing to mention it to me strikes me as suspicious.

Of course, you don't even have proof that you were speaking to "I. Roitman" himself at all.  You could have been speaking to his nephew, or to some other former SMERSH agent that he lives with in a building full of retired SMERSH agents.

But let us continue on with your description of your final efforts to track down Israel Roitman:

Finally, I made inquiries among the Toronto Russian/Ukrainian Jewish community, particularly among those who were resistance fighters.  None of them had heard of Israel Roitman.

Again, a good sleuth does not muddle his quarry's characteristics:

Israel Roitman was a SMERSH agent, not a resistance fighter; therefore you were making inquiries among the wrong people.

Again, a good sleuth does not place great reliance on the friends of the quarry stating "we never heard of this guy."

Furthermore, it is to be expected that any Jewish community will protect one of its members by denying knowledge of his existence.  Better would have been to arrive at the offices of each community unannounced and ask to inspect their membership lists.

Here's what a bad sleuth does:

Had the Deschênes Commission followed your modus operandi, it could have saved itself a great deal of time, and saved the Canadian taxpayer a great deal of money, by screening denounced Ukrainians as follows:

VOICE:  Hello.
LITTMAN:  Hello, can I speak to Mr. Kravchuk?
VOICE:  Speaking.
LITTMAN:  Mr. Kravchuk, my name is Sol Littman.  I am Canada's leading Nazi hunter, and I am calling on behalf of the Deschênes Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals.  I am looking for an Ivan Kravchuk who was denounced in an anonymous letter for being a war criminal, and so when I checked the phone book and found an "I. Kravchuk," I thought that this might be the man I was looking for.
LITTMAN:  So, then, can you confirm that you are Ivan Kravchuk?
VOICE:  No, my first name is not Ivan.
LITTMAN:  Are you sure?
VOICE:  Yes.
LITTMAN:  Are you really, really sure?
VOICE:  I'm positive!
LITTMAN:  Would you mind taking out your driver's license and looking at it?
VOICE:  [rustling]  OK, I'm doing it.
LITTMAN:  Is the name on that license "Ivan Kravchuk"?
VOICE:  No, it is not.
LITTMAN:  OK.  But as you are a Ukrainian, I am obligated to ask whether you are a war criminal?
VOICE:  No, I am not.
LITTMAN:  Are you sure?
VOICE:  Yes.
LITTMAN:  Are you really, really sure?
VOICE:  I'm positive!
LITTMAN:  OK, then.  Sorry to bother you.  Good bye.

How marvelously efficient!  Using the Littman methodology, a single Deschênes Commission investigator would have been able to complete the initial screening of hundreds of denounced Ukrainians in a single week.  Add to that, phone calls to two haphazardly-chosen Ukrainian organizations perhaps one nearby Ukrainian credit union and one nearby Ukrainian church to find out if the person who picked up the phone knew an Ivan Kravchuk, and the investigation would be complete.

A bad sleuth should go into another line of work:

Seeing the many defects in your sleuthing, it must strike any observer that you have little talent for it, which would help explain why in your Tryzub and Swastika Speech, you found yourself in the predicament of representing yourself as a career Nazi hunter and yet being unable to point to a single Nazi that your hunt had ever bagged.

Lubomyr Prytulak