A 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard who has been living in Tennessee was deported to his home country of Germany on Saturday.
According to a Saturday news release from the Department of Justice, Friedrich Karl Berger worked at a Neuengamme subcamp near Meppen, Germany, where the prison population comprised “Jews, Poles, Russians, Danes, Dutch, Latvians, French, Italians, and political opponents.”
In February 2020, a Memphis immigration judge said the prisoners in the camp were kept in “atrocious” conditions and forced to perform hard labor, working “to the point of exhaustion and death,” NBC News reported.
According to estimates from the Holocaust Memorial Museum, more than 50,000 prisoners, nearly half the people ever imprisoned there, died in the camp.
During the two-day trial last year, Berger admitted that he guarded prisoners to prevent them from escaping. After the Allies’ approach forced the Nazis to abandon Meppen, Berger also evacuated prisoners under inhumane conditions.
The former concentration camp guard reportedly never requested a transfer from the camp during his time there. As of February of last year, Berger was still receiving a pension from Germany for his wartime service.
Due to his participation in “Nazi-sponsored persecution,” the judge ruled that Berger could be deported, and the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the decision in November.
Berger is not the first person the U.S. government has deported for participating in the state-sponsored persecution carried out by the Nazis.
Despite the time that has passed, should former Nazis be tried for their crimes?
According to The Washington Post, the DOJ has won similar cases against 70 people since 1979. Due to the passage of time, however, the number of Nazi-era cases has slowed, meaning Berger could be the last former Nazi guard removed from the country.
Berger attempted to defend his actions in a statement to The Post last year. The former guard claimed he was only 19 when he was forced to work at the camp and was not there for long.
“After 75 years, this is ridiculous. I cannot believe it,” Berger said. “I cannot understand how this can happen in a country like this. You’re forcing me out of my home.”
According to the German news outlet Deutsche Welle, Berger made similar claims last year, arguing that he was only following orders at the time.
Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson justified Berger’s deportation in the DOJ statement, saying 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,” he added.
“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.”
Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson supported Berger’s removal in a similar statement.
“We are committed to ensuring the United States will not serve as a safe haven for human rights violators and war criminals,” Johnson said.
“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.”
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