Friedrich Karl Berger is a 95-year-old man who has been deported from Tennessee to Germany after authorities learned he had served as a Nazi concentration camp armed guard during World War II. Berger was 19 when he was a guard at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp System, the Department of Justice says. Berger, who has German citizenship, was deported on February 20, 2021.
According to the Department of Justice, Berger is the 70th Nazi persecutor deported from the United States. Berger’s past as a Nazi guard was uncovered when an index card was located in a sunken ship in the Baltic Sea, The Washington Post reports. Berger was known by the name Fritz Berger in the U.S.
“We are committed to ensuring the United States will not serve as a safe haven for human rights violators and war criminals,” Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson said in a statement. “We will never cease to pursue those who persecute others. This case exemplifies the steadfast dedication of both ICE and the Department of Justice to pursue justice and to hunt relentlessly for those who participated in one of history’s greatest atrocities, no matter how long it takes.”
Here’s what you need to know about Friedrich Berger:
Berger Admitted to Standing Guard Over Prisoners as They Worked at Neuengamme & Said He Was Still Receiving a Pension From Germany Based Partly on ‘Wartime Service’
According to the Department of Justice, “In November 2020, the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld a Memphis, Tennessee, Immigration Judge’s Feb. 28, 2020, decision that Berger was removable under the 1978 Holtzman Amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act because his ‘willing service as an armed guard of prisoners at a concentration camp where persecution took place’ constituted assistance in Nazi-sponsored persecution.”
The Justice Department added, “The court found that Berger served at a Neuengamme sub-camp near Meppen, Germany, and that the prisoners there included ‘Jews, Poles, Russians, Danes, Dutch, Latvians, French, Italians, and political opponents’ of the Nazis. The largest groups of prisoners were Russian, Dutch and Polish civilians.”
According to federal authorities, Berger admitted to being a guard at the camp, “to prevent them from escaping during their dawn-to-dusk workday, on their way to worksites and on their way back to the SS-run subcamp in the evening.” The Justice Department also said Berger helped guard prisoners who were forcibly evacuated from Neuengamme after it was abandoned by the Nazis as British and Canadian forces advanced on them.
“The decision also cited Berger’s admission that he never requested a transfer from concentration camp guard service and that he continues to receive a pension from Germany based on his employment in Germany, ‘including his wartime service,'” the Justice Department said.
According to authorities, Berger initially served in the German navy before being moved to his role as a concentration camp guard during the final months of the war. Berger told The Washington Post, “I was 19 years old. I was ordered to go there.” He said much of the evidence was based on “lies,” the newspaper reports. He said he did not carry a weapon.
Berger, Who Came to the U.S. With His Wife & Daughter Through Canada, Told The Washington Post His Deportation Was ‘Ridiculous’ & Said ‘You’re Forcing Me Out of My Home’
Berger came to the United States legally in 1959 with his now-deceased wife and daughter after previously living in Canada, according to the Justice Department. He was able to move to the U.S. because a law barring Nazi persecutors from coming to America expired in 1957, according to The Washington Post. Berger told authorities he had served in the German navy.
Berger told The Washington Post in March 2020, “After 75 years, this is ridiculous. I cannot believe it. I cannot understand how this can happen in a country like this. You’re forcing me out of my home.”
Berger, who lived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, told The Post he is a widower with two grandchildren who worked building wire-stripping machines after moving to the United States in 1959.
‘Nazi Hunter’ Eli Rosenbaum Led the Successful Defense of Berger’s Deportation Order After the Former Nazi Guard Appealed
According to the Department of Justice, famed director of Human Rights Enforcement and Policy in the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, handled the successful opposition of Berger’s appeal of the deportation order. Rosenbaum has been dubbed a “real-life Nazi hunter” by Jewish Insider.
Rosenbaum told Jewish Insider in March 2020, “We are definitely at the very last moment in history when these cases can still be brought. It’s simply a function of the passage of time.”
He said about Berger’s age and appearance, “They clearly don’t come out of central casting in that regard. You can’t go by appearances. That’s all I can say.”
Berger Was Not Arrested When He Arrived in Germany & Investigators There Dropped a Criminal Case Against Him Last Year
Berger’s fate now that he is back in his native Germany is unknown. According to Reuters, Berger was not arrested after he arrived at Frankfurt airport in Germany, but he will be questioned by local police.
German authorities dropped a criminal investigation into Berger in December 2020 because of insufficient evidence, Reuters reports. The investigators said they were unable to dispute Berger’s side of the story, according to Reuters. The U.S. followed through with the deportation despite the charges being dropped.
The Acting Attorney General Says ‘the Passage Even of Many Decades Will Not Deter the Department From Pursuing Justice on Behalf of the Victims of Nazi Crimes’
Acting U.S. Attorney General Monty Wilkinson said in a statement, “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.”
Wilkinson added, “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.”
According to The Washington Post, Berger could be the last Nazi guard or war criminal to be deported from the U.S., as the Justice Department does not have any ongoing cases.
“Since the 1979 inception of the Justice Department’s program to detect, investigate, and remove Nazi persecutors, it has won cases against 109 individuals. Over the past 30 years, the Justice Department has won more cases against persons who participated in Nazi persecution than have the law enforcement authorities of all the other countries in the world combined. HRSP’s case against Berger was part of its ongoing efforts to identify, investigate and prosecute individuals who engaged in genocide, torture, war crimes, recruitment or use of child soldiers, female genital mutilation, and other serious human rights violations,” the DOJ said in a statement. “HRSP attorneys prosecuted the first torture case brought in the United States and have successfully prosecuted criminal cases against perpetrators of human rights violations committed in Guatemala, Ethiopia, Liberia, Cuba, and the former Yugoslavia, among others.”
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