Scaramucci Holocaust Poll Donation Will Fund Nazi Hunter's Work

Anthony Scaramucci’s $25,000 apology-donation to the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) will go toward funding the efforts of its Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, the organization announced on Tuesday.

Scaramucci, who was fired less than two weeks after being named the White House communications director under President Donald Trump, drew searing criticism last week when his post-White House "media venture," the Scaramucci Post, tweeted a poll asking how many Jews had been killed in the Holocaust. 

Related: Scaramucci Post Yanks Twitter Poll on Holocaust Death Toll

"It seemed so idiotic. It was a dumb thing to do,” Zuroff, who comprises the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, told Newsweek in a phone conversation on Tuesday. "From what I understand, the intentions were not bad,” he added on Wednesday, but “this is not the way to do it. To encourage deniers, distorters and all that.”

The Scaramucci Post pulled the poll off Twitter and explained that it had been posted by Scaramucci’s business partner Lance Laifer while Scaramucci was traveling. Both apologized and Scaramucci promised $25,000 to the SWC, which confirmed on Tuesday that the donation had been received and would be used “to bolster efforts” by Zuroff. The “Nazi hunter” has dedicated decades to researching archives, looking for suspects and witnesses and lobbying governments to take action against alleged war criminals.

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The donation from Scaramucci will go toward strengthening some of the Nazi hunter’s most recent work, which has focused on pushing for the prosecution of members of the Einsatzgruppen, or mobile killing units. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the units composed of German SS and police personnel (with local civilian and police support) were responsible for murdering perceived enemies of the Third Reich on the eastern front. Estimates differ, but the USHMM says the Einsatzgruppen killed more than a million Jews and tens of thousands of others.

10_25_Nazi_hunter_Scaramucci_donation Anthony Scaramucci's donation to the Simon Wiesenthal Center will go toward funding Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff's efforts to bring to justice members of the Einsatzgruppen, or mobile killing units. Shown here, people tour the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust after a Holocaust Remembrance Day event (Yom Ha'Shoah) in Los Angeles on April 23. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Zuroff found new hope for prosecuting killing unit members after a legal precedent was set in Germany with the conviction of John Demjanjuk in 2011. Prosecutors had needed to prove Holocaust figures were guilty of a specific crime against a specific victim. Demjanjuk’s case was the first to use a new strategy, with prosecutors arguing that anyone working at a death camp could be convicted of accessory to murder on the logic that they were part of an apparatus whose sole purpose was extermination. (That logic has since been used to convict Oskar Groening and Reinhold Hanning.)

For years, Zuroff estimated that roughly 3,000 people had served in the Einsatzgruppen. He had in his archive a list of 1,293 names of killing unit members, 1,069 of which had birthdates attached. After the Demjanjuk precedent, he went through the list to identify those with birthdates after 1920 to find 80 Einsatzgruppen members he thought could still be alive and passed them on to German officials in September 2014. In January 2016, they asked Zuroff for more information about eight of the 80. None have been prosecuted to date but the German television channel ARD broadcast interviews in late September with Kurt Gosdek and Herbert Wahler, two alleged killing unit members from the eight-person list. Zuroff said he worked with Kirsten Goetz, who helped develop the legal reasoning in the Demjanjuk prosecution, to submit a formal complaint on Tuesday to two local prosecutors urging them to prosecute Gosdek and Wahler.

10_25_Efraim_Zuroff Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff is working to urge Germany to prosecute suspected members of the Einsatzgruppen, or mobile killing units, and to identify additional suspects. Zuroff, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, is shown here posing for a portrait in Jerusalem in 2007. Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters

Scaramucci spokesman Howard Bragman told Newsweek that the former White House communications director also is planning to travel to Israel in November. “Looking back,” Bragman said of the controversial poll, “it would have been nice if it didn’t happen—but since it did happen, we are trying to make the best of it.” Scaramucci isn’t “buying his way out of a bad situation” with the gift to the Wiesenthal Center. “He made a very heartfelt apology,” Bragman said.

Related: Scaramucci Post Accused of Anti-Semitism for Second Time This Month

Zuroff said, “The background to the donation is obviously unfortunate, but the money should go to a good cause. I’m prejudiced, but I think justice is certainly one of the best causes.”

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