On Wednesday, March 5, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that a U.S. immigration judge in Memphis ordered a Tennessee man’s extradition to Germany.
The man, Friedrich Karl Berger, 94, is a German citizen and served as an armed guard at a concentration camp in Nazi Germany during World War II. According to the DOJ, Judge Rebecca L. Holt made the ruling after “a two-day trial ‘on the basis of his service in Nazi Germany in 1945 as an armed guard of concentration camp prisoners in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp system.
In response to Judge Holt’s decision, Berger told The Washington Post, “After 75 years, this is ridiculous. I cannot believe it. You’re forcing me out of my home.” It is not immediately clear if Berger intends to appeal his decision, which would be a move that could delay his deportation for several years. Berger has been living in the U.S. since 1959.
Berger participated as a guard at one of the Neuengamme system’s sub-camps in Germany, known as Meppen. As a guard, he admitted to preventing prisoners from escaping during the workday and during their trips to and from work sites. In anticipation of the British and Canadian forces’ arrival to liberate the camps in 1945, Berger helped guard the prisoners during their “forcible evacuation,” a two week trip the killed around 70 prisoners due to inhumane conditions.
It is important to note that Berger said he was forced to work in World War II and he never carried a weapon. However, records reflect he never requested a transfer from concentration camp guard services. Additionally, he still receives a pension from Germany due to his employment and “wartime service.”
Judge Holt issued her opinion “finding Berger removeable under the 1978 Holtzman Amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act.” This was because he committed a “willing service” as an armed guard of inmates at a concentration camp where Nazi-sponsored persecution took place.
The DOJ wrote: “Berger was part of the SS machinery of oppression that kept concentration camp prisoners in atrocious conditions of confinement,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. “This ruling shows the Department’s continued commitment to obtaining a measure of justice, however late, for the victims of wartime Nazi persecution.”
The investigation was initiated by the DOJ’s Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section and completed with help from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center.
David C. Shaw, the supervisor of war crime cases of ICE, said in a statement, “The United States will not serve as a safe haven for human rights violators and war criminals. We will continue to pursue these types of cases so that justice may be served.”
A note about Neuengamme…
The Neuengamme Concentration Camp System was a system in which around 100,000 people were imprisoned between 1938 and 1945. According to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, at least 42,900 were killed here.
The Neuengamme prisoners were compiled of “Jews, Poles, Russians, Danes, Dutch, Latvians, French, Italians, and political opponents [of the Nazis].” The imprisoned experienced “atrocious” conditions during the winter of 1944-1945 and faced exploitation for labor that forced victims to work from dawn until dusk each day, which often led to exhausted and death.