Europe

US deports former Nazi concentration camp guard, 95, to Germany

A former Nazi concentration camp guard has been deported by the US to Germany where he could face legal proceedings.

The US Justice Department said Friedrich Karl Berger, 95, had been “removed from the US based on his participation in Nazi-sponsored persecution while serving in Nazi Germany in 1945”.

He is described as a Tennessee resident with German citizenship, who served as an armed guard at a Neuengamme sub-camp near Meppen, Germany, where prisoners included “Jews, Poles, Russians, Danes, Dutch, Latvians, French, Italians, and political opponents” of the Nazis.

He left on a medical plane on Saturday, landing at Frankfurt airport where he is to be interrogated by investigators from the police force of the state of Hesse.

“We have received the order from the public prosecutor’s office of Celle to interrogate Mr Berger on the charge of complicity in murder,” Sebastian Wolf, spokesman for Hesse police, told AFP.

Despite his age, Berger is said to be in good health and able to follow an interrogation.

However, the public prosecutor’s office of Celle in charge of the case had abandoned previous proceedings against him at the end of December for lack of sufficient evidence, and it remains pessimistic about the possibility of a trial.

There will “probably not” be a new investigation unless Berger “makes a detailed confession,” Attorney General Bernd Kolkmeier told AFP.

‘Accomplice’ in prisoners’ deaths

The former concentration camp guard moved to Tennessee in 1959, living there without anyone knowing his past for many years.

It was only when Nazi-era documents bearing his name were found in 1950 in a sunken ship in the Baltic Sea that investigators set out to find him.

The American justice system suspects him of having been an accomplice in the deaths of prisoners while he was a guard between January and April 1945 in the concentration camp complex at Neuengamme, south-east of Hamburg, and in one of its outer camps near Meppen, in particular during an evacuation operation in March 1945.

In March, the US immigration court decided he should be returned to Germany for “voluntarily serving as an armed guard in a concentration camp where persecution took place”.

During his interrogations in the US, Berger admitted to having been a guard in the camp for a time, but said he had no knowledge of mistreatment of prisoners or deaths among the inmates: he believed he had only obeyed orders.

The Neuengamme concentration camp was originally founded in 1938 as a sub-camp of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, located further east in Brandenburg. It then became an independent concentration camp in 1940.

According to the camp’s memorial, the prisoners were used as forced labourers for the war economy: 106,000 people were deported there, 55,000 of whom died mostly from exhaustion.

Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson for the US Justice Department said: “Berger’s removal demonstrates the Department of Justice’s and its law enforcement partners’ commitment to ensuring that the United States is not a safe haven for those who have participated in Nazi crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses.

“The Department marshaled evidence that our Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section found in archives here and in Europe, including records of the historic trial at Nuremberg of the most notorious former leaders of the defeated Nazi regime.

“In this year in which we mark the 75th anniversary of the Nuremberg convictions, this case shows that the passage even of many decades will not deter the Department from pursuing justice on behalf of the victims of Nazi crimes”.

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