Sher, Neal

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SHER, NEAL (1947– ), U.S. lobbyist and government official. Sher joined the U.S. Department of Justice's *Office of Special Investigations (osi) in 1979, becoming its director from 1983 to 1994. Established in 1979, osi investigates, denaturalizes, and deports persons who took part in Nazi-sponsored acts of persecution, and excludes from entry into the United States any person listed on its "watch list" of suspected Nazi and Axis persecutors. Under Sher's directorship, 98 individuals who entered the United States under false pretenses by hiding their Nazi past were denaturalized, and many were deported.

Sher spearheaded several high-profile cases, including placing former Austrian president and United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim on the "watch list," based on Waldheim's service in the Wehrmacht while in the Balkans and Greece as Jews were being deported and murdered there. Sher successfully prosecuted Arthur Rudolph, the former project director of nasa's Saturn v moon rocket program, who voluntarily left the country in 1984 when osi proved he served from 1943 to 1945 as director of the Mittelwerk slave labor v-2 rocket factory. Sher also led the case against Karl Linnas, stripped of his citizenship in 1981 when osi shed light on his past as commander of the Tartu concentration camp and his personal involvement in the killing of thousands of Jews.

One case under Sher's directorship was particularly controversial, that of John Demjanjuk, a retired Cleveland, Ohio, auto worker. In news attracting international attention, osi accused Demjanjuk of being "Ivan the Terrible," a notorious Ukrainian guard at Treblinka. In 1982, Demjanjuk was stripped of American citizenship and deported to Israel and convicted of murder, though his conviction was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993 for lack of evidence. A U.S. appeals court subsequently ruled that osi had "acted with a reckless disregard for the truth." Demjanjuk was eventually stripped of his citizenship for his activities in several concentration camps.

From 1994 to 1996, Sher was executive director of the *American Israel Public Affairs Committee (aipac), the pro-Israel lobby based in Washington, d.c. He lobbied Congress to increase foreign aid to Israel, to pass anti-terrorism legislation, and to urge the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Following aipac, Sher consulted with the World Jewish Congress and joined a Washington, d.c.-based law firm.

In 1998, Sher became chief of staff of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (icheic), established to evaluate claims against several European insurance companies and to distribute proceeds from those claims to Holocaust survivors and victims' heirs. Sher's career at icheic was cut short in 2002 when he admitted to improper use of agency funds and improprieties with respect to travel. Sher fully reimbursed icheic but was subsequently disbarred from the d.c. bar. Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, the senior government official who led efforts on Holocaustera asset restitution in the Clinton administration, stated "I can only say it's a real tragedy … and an exception to the decades of [Sher's] service to the country and to the Jewish community."

[Ralph Grunewald (2nd ed.)]