Minnesota Law Mourns the Passing of Allan Ryan ’70, ‘Nation’s Foremost Nazi Hunter’

Allan A. Ryan ‘70, a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer who in the 1980s was responsible for finding and prosecuting dozens of Nazi collaborators living in the United States, died at the age of 77.   

Ryan served as the director of the Office of Special Investigations, a U.S. Justice Department unit. The office was created in 1979 in light of reports that thousands of Nazi collaborators had come to the United States as refugees after World War II, many under assumed identities.

The New York Times referred to Ryan as “the nation’s foremost Nazi hunter” for his efforts at the office, which included a team of about 20 lawyers and 10 investigators.

A graduate of Dartmouth College, Ryan clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White after graduating from Minnesota Law. After serving as a captain in the Marine Corps, he joined the Office of the Solicitor General before joining the Office of Special Investigations.

Upon leaving the government in 1983, Ryan worked in the general counsel’s office at Harvard University. He later served as director of intellectual property for Harvard Business School Publishing. He also taught law classes at Boston College and at Harvard’s extension and summer schools, and served as chairman of the board of Veterans Legal Services, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit.

Reflecting on her father’s legacy, Elisabeth Ryan, herself a lawyer, said, “My dad had an extraordinary list of accomplishments and accolades, as seen in the New York Times and in the coming days in the Boston Globe and Washington Post. But he was also an amazing father and one of the most important things that he taught me and my brother growing up was to always be on the lookout for injustice in the world, no matter how big or small, and to always do something about it.”

Elisabeth Ryan went on to say that her father’s advice has helped her both in her own legal career and in life.

“To this day, my brother and I follow it as a core principle in our lives,” she said. “He loved the law but he was always acutely aware that the law itself could be unjust, as could the people who write and interpret it. But he was eternally optimistic in its ability to be transformative for good and he fully believed in the MLK quote that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.’”