A dozen years ago, on the website of an Atlanta-based cable network, I published a blog titled: “What to do about those old men?”
I began by asking: “What would you do about a small number of men, the youngest in their 80s and generally not in the greatest of health, who immigrated to the United States after World War II and have been living working-class American lives for decades? They have wives, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They also stand accused of participating in the extermination of 6 million Jews and countless others in Nazi concentration camps … What do you do about these old men, let nature take its course or find them, prosecute them and deport them?”
Where the former has been too slow, the Justice Department has pursued the latter — but that work may be nearing its end.
On Jan. 20, the United States government returned 95-year-old Friedrich Karl Berger, a resident of Oak Ridge, Tenn., for more than six decades, to Germany, where he remained a citizen.
The Justice Department said that Berger was removed because of his “willing service as an armed guard of prisoners at a concentration camp where persecution took place.” That was the Neuengamme subcamp near Meppen, Germany, where, in the winter of 1945, prisoners held in “atrocious” conditions were “exploited for outdoor forced labor” and worked “to the point of exhaustion and death.”
With Berger’s deportation, “There are no cases in any U.S. court at the present time involving alleged participants in WWII-era Nazi-sponsored acts of persecution,” a Justice Department spokesman told the AJT.
Think about that: 76 years after the end of the Holocaust, there may be no more Nazi perpetrators to pursue in the United States.
Even as “investigative activities continue,” the Justice Department spokesman acknowledged that “actuarial realities will no doubt bring these prosecutions to a conclusion in the intermediate future: the vast majority of the persons implicated in the perpetration of Nazi crimes are no longer alive, and the population of such individuals who are both alive and medically capable of being brought to trial is dwindling rapidly.”
In his 2014 book, “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men,” journalist Eric Lichtblau wrote that upwards of 10,000 Nazis entered this country after World War II. “Thousands of Nazis sneaked in on their own, easily gaming the American immigration system. But hundreds had help . . . ,” Lichtblau wrote. That help came from American intelligence officials, who saw them as potential spies and informants against Soviet communism, which had replaced German fascism as the focus of U.S. national security.
Not until 1979 did the Justice Department create a Nazi-hunting unit, several years after The New York Times corroborated what a whistleblower told Elizabeth Holtzman, a Jewish congresswoman from New York, about the Nazis’ presence. Holtzman accused U.S. authorities of creating “a safe haven for alleged Nazi war criminals” and an “ugly blot on our country.”
Over 42 years, the Justice Department has won cases against 109 men and women, “more cases against persons who participated in Nazi persecution than have the law enforcement authorities of all the other countries in the world combined” — which seems more an indictment of the effort made by other nations.
For many years, Nazi hunting was the mission of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations. In 2010, the unit was folded into the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, which prosecutes perpetrators of human rights violations found within U.S. jurisdiction.
The American military veterans who liberated Nazi concentration camps are also aging. Last September, there were 325,000 living World War II veterans; by this September, the government estimates that there will be 100,000 fewer.
There are an estimated 80,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States. What I wrote in 2009 remains true today: “They tell their stories to schoolchildren, religious congregations, and anyone else who will listen and remember. When they are gone, so will be living testimony to the horrors at Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Treblinka, and camps too numerous to list. Future generations will have the survivors’ recorded histories, along with the records kept by the Nazis, who thought history would thank them for their diligence; the investigations by the OSI and Nazi-hunters in other countries, and museum exhibits about the period that set a standard for inhumanity.”