”War Criminal Remains A Free Man In U.S.” blared the bold headline in the March 1971 issue of the United Israel Bulletin. Editor David Horowitz opened the article with a bold challenge to all readers:
“A murderer of thousands of Jews, a World War II criminal found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to hard labor for life, today walks the streets of a leading U.S. city as a free man, in the robe of a priest heading a religious body. Unbelievable, you will say. Yes, unbelievable, but it is the truth and only in quick-to-forget America could such a thing happen.”
Horowitz continued, “But what is most fantastic of all is the fact that this criminal in the year 1955, in his clerical disguise, was invited to give the opening prayer in the United States Senate. Who exactly is this man who has made Detroit his home base and how, in the face of his World War II record, did he manage to enter the United States?”
Thus, David Horowitz, pulling no punches when a strong voice was needed, launched the first salvo in a campaign to have the Justice Department consider reopening the war crimes charges against Archbishop Valerian D. Trifa, who came to the U.S. in 1950.
Valerian Trifa had concealed a past that included membership in a group called the Iron Guard, a fascist movement that was the Rumanian parallel of the Nazi storm troopers in Germany. He played a part in provoking the Legionnaires’ Rebellion in Bucharest when on January 20, 1941, his anti-Semitic speech touched off four days of attacks in which 300 Jews and others were killed.
After being singled out as a rebel by Ion Antonescu, Romania’s “Conducator” and a competitor of the Iron Guard, he spent the final years of World War II in Nazi Germany, as a detainee with privileged status. Romanian authorities tried him in absentia, alongside other Iron Guard leaders, and sentenced him to life imprisonment and labor.
Trifa moved to the United States on July 17, 1950, using the “Displaced Persons Immigration Law.” According to the Italian weekly L’Espresso, this was made possible by the intervention of a “high-ranking (Italian Catholic) prelate.”
He subsequently became a writer at the Solia Romanian language newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio. At the Congress of the dissident Romanian Orthodox Church in America held in Chicago on July 2, 1951, Trifa was chosen bishop and then moved to Grass Lake, Michigan, where the headquarters of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate was located.
Responsible Romanian-Americans who knew of his true past, including Dr. Charles H. Kramer, President of the Romanian Jewish Federation of America, soon exposed Trifa.
Having also exposed the Romanian anti-Semite in his broadcast of May 29, 1955, the late columnist Drew Pearson again laid out the facts of the charges in his syndicated column of June 4, 1955.
Walter Winchell, in his broadcast of September 9, 1951, called Valerian Trifa a “murderer” referring to him as being one of the “Nazi leaders who helped Hitler kill American GI’s.” He urged that the Senate conduct a thorough investigation not only of him but also of his associates.
Congressman Seymour Halpern (NY), in March 1952, read into the Congressional Record a devastating indictment against the former Iron Guard member.
Despite all the evidence produced by the genuine Romanian religious authorities, by chief Rabbi Rosen, by leaders of the World Jewish Congress, and by many other reliable sources, pointing to Trifa’s guilt as a war criminal, he managed to evade arrest or extradition. A host of like-minded “friends” in the U.S. and Canada provided aid and support including his acquisition of American citizenship on May 13, 1957.
Despite the secure refuge Trifa enjoyed and the years of slippage into cold case reality, David Horowitz persisted in his belief that it was still not too late for the government to reopen its investigation of the Iron Guard murderer who was admitted to the U.S. under false pretenses two decades ago.
With the shocking headline and lengthy article in the March issue of the United Israel Bulletin, David launched what would become a five-year campaign in the quest for justice against Valerian Trifa. Yes, five years.
During this period, David examined the information in the Winchell and Pearson exposes, the documentary evidence on file in the Anti-Defamation League offices, and consulted with Dr. Charles Kremer, President of the Rumanian Jewish Federation of America, who had for years made an effort to publicize Trifa’s crimes.
David’s investigative reporting took him to Rumania where he unearthed much of the background information from agency files and personal interviews. He traveled to Israel where he gathered information and interviewed witnesses to Trifa’s crimes. He searched databases and made countless phone calls.
The World Union Press syndicate and the United Israel Bulletin published well-documented articles, all edited by Horowitz, resurrecting the entire case of the former Iron Guard leader and bringing to light his full background wartime activities.
Throughout the years 1971-1973, these publications continuously published feature articles with photographs exposing Trifa as a war criminal. Many of the articles were based on personal interviews with first account witnesses to the crimes, both Jews and non-Jews.
David communicated with most of the members of Congress, both the House and Senate, alerting them to the criminal background of the Bishop. Among the Senators who took an active interest was Jacob K. Javits.
David also alerted the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, suggesting that the Trifa matter be examined in the light of Assembly Resolution 2840. Jacob T. Moller, UN Officer of the Division of Human Rights, duly acknowledged this latter communication, which included copies of the United Israel Bulletins.
Reacting to the article on Bishop Trifa in the March issue of the Bulletin, Senator Jacob Javits remarked: “It is important, even a generation after the conclusion of World War II, that war criminals continue to be pursued. There is no statute of limitations on murder…”
A few months after David’s first expose, Bishop Trifa wrote him a two-page letter listing 10 points in which he disclaimed all the charges made against him. Accusing Horowitz of making libelous statements, he requested that his response be given the same publicity as the “false allegations” made against him.
In the July 1971 issue of the United Israel Bulletin, Trifa was granted his request. His full letter was published.
Appearing in the same issue however, was a complete dossier of official Rumanian documents that clearly substantiated the charges against the Bishop. Included in the evidence were copies of a Trifa anti-Semitic Manifesto, co-signed by four other Iron Guard Nazis, the warrant for Trifa’s arrest, and a copy of the court decision sentencing Trifa and others to life imprisonment.
The case of the former Rumanian Iron Guard leader was aired over New York’s municipal radio station WNYC on Thursday evening, September 30, in a memorial broadcast honoring the victims of the 1941 pogroms in Jassy and Bucharest. Dr. Charles H. Kramer, President of the Rumanian Jewish Federation of America and veteran UN correspondent David Horowitz were guest speakers. Both spoke at length about the case against Trifa.
In December 1973, The New York Times, following an intensive investigation, published a lengthy article that, in essence, confirmed the charges that David Horowitz had made in his years of relentless pursuit. The long campaign was finally beginning to bear fruit.
At last, following years of intensive efforts on the part of David Horowitz and Dr. Charles Kramer, the U.S. Government took action to bring Bishop Valerian D. Trifa to trial. The U.S. Attorney in Detroit formally charged the Romanian progomist with having won his naturalization through “false and untrue” denials of membership in the Nazi-inspired Iron Guard and in participation in the murder of Jews and Masons in the year 1941.
The U.S suit, brought against Trifa on July 5, 1975, was the culmination of an extensive review of the Bishop’s case by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and was due in large part, to official documents uncovered and published by the United Israel Bulletins, the World Union Press and by Dr. Charles Kramer of the Rumanian Jewish Federation of America.
In 1980, Archbishop Trifa voluntarily surrendered his citizenship, hoping that would put an end to the government’s efforts. Those efforts however, continued and in 1982, in the midst of a trial before an immigration judge in Detroit, the Archbishop voluntarily agreed to his deportation. He did so, he said, because of the financial burden the trial was putting on his church.
He was ordered to leave the United States in 1982, but spent two years trying to find a country that would give him refuge. Portugal admitted him in 1984 and he settled in Estoril, east of Cascais.
Archbishop Valerian D. Trifa, whom David Horowitz once called “a wolf disguised in a Bishop’s robe” died on January 28, 1987 in a Cascais, Portugal hospital at the age of 72.
Charles R. Allen, Jr., a noted author who was among the first in the U.S. to expose Nazi war criminals residing in America and Canada, paid high tribute to UN Correspondent David Horowitz for his role in reactivating the case against the Rumanian pogromist. Allen wrote: “Mr. Horowitz’ investigative reporting aroused national interest in the case. Dr. Charles Kramer, who had made it a life task to publicize Trifa’s crimes, was a voice crying in the wilderness until the Horowitz’ exposes appeared.”
Elements of the Trifa case were the topic of an episode of the documentary series Forensic Files, aired by the United States television station Court TV in January 2001. The episode, titled “Unholy Vows,” discussed the case and the forensic evidence gathered from Trifa’s correspondence.
Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.
This post is the twenty-fifth in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” For the complete archive see here.