A LATENT FINGERPRINT ON A POSTCARD SENT DURING WORLD WAR II PROVED THIS ROMANIAN ARCHBISHOP WAS A NAZI MURDERER
Archbishop Valerian Trifa , who was deported from the United States in 1984 after being accused of being a Nazi supporter who incited attacks on Jews and other civilians in World War II, died yesterday in a hospital in Cascais, Portugal. He was 72 years old and recently suffered a heart attack.
Until his deportation, the Archbishop was the spiritual leader of 35,000 members of the Rumanian Orthodox Episcopate, based in Grass Lake, Mich.
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.
The case against the church leader was pursued for more than a decade by survivors of the Nazi years, Jewish organizations, journalists and the Justice Department. The effort helped focus public attention on Nazi war criminals who were living in the United States. Under False Pretenses
The core of the Justice Department's case against Archbishop Trifa was that he had entered the United States under false pretenses in 1950. It charged that he 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.
Federal officials said a speech in Bucharest by Archbishop Trifa on Jan. 20, 1941, touched off four days of attacks in which 300 Jews and others were killed.
Archbishop Trifa repeatedly denied that he directed an attack against Jews. But he acknowledged, when faced with evidence, including a picture of him in the uniform of the Iron Guard, that he was a member of the group. He also admitted to editing an anti-Jewish newspaper and giving pro-Nazi speeches.
He remained unrepentant. ''I am not ashamed of my past at all,'' he said to an interviewer in 1973. ''For those circumstances in that time I think that I didn't have any other alternative but to do what I thought to be right for the interests of the Rumanian people.''
When shown texts of speeches bearing his name, the Archbishop said they were standard oratory for student leaders all over Rumania. ''I didn't write my own speeches,'' he said.
On entering the United States after the war, he claimed that he was a displaced person who had been in a concentration camp in Germany. In its case against him, the Government charged that, in fact, he lived in Germany with special privileges.
Born in Transylvania in 1914, he was ordained as a priest of the Rumanian church soon after his arrival in the United States. He rose quickly to the rank of bishop and archbishop and lived in comfort in a 25-room farmhouse on a 200-acre estate maintained by his church.
Before his past was disclosed, he was an honored prelate. In 1955, Archbishop Trifa gave the opening prayer before the United States Senate. He was also appointed to the governing board of the National Council of Churches, although he was later removed.
The case against the Archbishop had many twists, but the Justice Department, which began its efforts in 1975, pursued the case until the Archbishop left the country. Surrenders His Citizenship
In 1980, Archbishop Trifa voluntarily surrendered his citizenship, hoping that 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.
In 1983, the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations negotiated with the Israeli Government about admitting the Archbishop. The effort failed, apparently because the Israelis did not feel they could build a sufficient war crimes case against him.
In an interview in 1984, soon before he left the United States, the Archbishop warned that the preoccupation about the Holocaust among Jews would ''backfire.''
''I am a man who happened to get put in a moment of history when some people wanted to make a point,'' he said. ''The point was to revive the Holocaust. But all this talk by the Jews about the Holocaust is going to backfire.''
By ARI L. GOLDMAN -Published: January 29, 1987
New York Times