Tennessee Man Who Served as Nazi Camp Guard Is Deported to Germany

The deportation of Friedrich Karl Berger capped what could be the last prosecution by the U.S. government of collaborators in Nazi war crimes.

The deportation of Friedrich Karl Berger capped what could be the last prosecution by the U.S. government of collaborators in Nazi war crimes.

Credit…Justice Department

A 95-year-old man who lived in Tennessee was deported to Germany on Saturday, one year after a federal judge found that he had served as an armed guard at a Nazi concentration camp where prisoners were forced to work outdoors “to the point of exhaustion and death.”

The deportation of the former guard, Friedrich Karl Berger, capped what could be the last prosecution by the U.S. government of collaborators in Nazi war crimes as most of the targets have died in the more than 75 years since the end of World War II.

The Justice Department said Mr. Berger had served as an armed guard at a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp near Meppen, Germany, where Danes, Dutch, French, Italians, Jews, Latvians, Poles and Russians as well as political opponents of the Nazis were imprisoned in “atrocious” conditions and forced to dig anti-tank fortifications in the dead of winter.

At the end of March 1945, when the Nazis abandoned Meppen to escape advancing British and Canadian forces, Mr. Berger helped to guard the prisoners during their forcible evacuation to the main camp, a nearly two-week march under inhumane conditions that claimed the lives of some 70 prisoners, the department said.

The entire Neuengamme system — which included scores of camps — imprisoned some 100,000 men and women, about 40,000 to 55,000 of whom died, the Justice Department said. Between 3,000 to 4,000 people were imprisoned at two Meppen subcamps, one of which Mr. Berger guarded.

During a two-day trial in February 2020, Mr. Berger acknowledged that he had guarded prisoners to prevent them from escaping as they worked from dawn to dusk, and as they traveled to work sites and back to the camp, the Justice Department said. Mr. Berger also acknowledged that he never requested a transfer from concentration camp guard service and that he had continued to receive a pension from Germany based in part on his “wartime service.”

In November 2020, the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld an immigration judge’s decision that Mr. 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.

“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,” Monty Wilkinson, the acting attorney general, said in a statement.

“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,” Mr. Wilkinson said.

On Saturday, a plane brought Mr. Berger back to Germany, where he remains a citizen, the Justice Department said. German officials have indicated that he will not face additional prosecution there. Mr. Berger’s lawyer, Hugh B. Ward Jr., said that his client was “safe, sound, free” at an assisted-living center in Germany.

Since the Justice Department began a program in 1979 to track down and deport former Nazis, it has won 109 cases, the department said. But “this may be the last U.S. Nazi case,” said Eli M. Rosenbaum, a senior official at the department’s Human Rights and Special Prosecution unit, who was among those who tried the case against Mr. Berger.

“There’s hardly anyone left,” Mr. Rosenbaum said. “The vast majority of the perpetrators have died.”

Mr. Berger’s case was unique because it was the only one in the history of the Justice Department’s Nazi prosecution program in which there were no known surviving victims available to testify, Mr. Rosenbaum said. German forces also destroyed the records from Meppen when they abandoned the camp in 1945, he said, so prosecutors relied on documents found elsewhere.

A crucial piece of evidence tying Mr. Berger to his Nazi past came from SS cards that identified guards in the Neuengamme camps, which were discovered in 1950 in a German ship that had been sunk by the Allies five years earlier.

Mr. Rosenbaum said it was not clear how the cards were not destroyed after years underwater. After the ship was raised from the Baltic Sea, many of the cards were illegible and some were only partly legible. Those that could be read were transcribed and recorded. One of the cards identified Mr. Berger.

“It was needle-in-a-haystack stuff, to put it mildly,” Mr. Rosenbaum said.

Mr. Berger, he said, had enlisted in the German military in 1943 and had been assigned by the SS to guard the Meppen camp. He moved to the United States in 1959, and he had lived quietly in a ranch house on a cul-de-sac in Oak Ridge, Tenn., about 25 miles west of Knoxville.

Last year, after a judge ordered that he be deported, Mr. Berger told The Washington Post that he had been ordered to work in the camp, was there for a short time and did not carry a weapon. In the United States, he said, he had made a living building wire-stripping machines.

“After 75 years, this is ridiculous — I cannot believe it,” he told The Post, adding, “You’re forcing me out of my home.”

But Mr. Rosenbaum said the deportation represented a “significant measure of justice.”

“He will not continue to enjoy the benefits of living in this country,” he said. “His wartime service — not in the SS, but to the SS at this camp — has been exposed. We proved in court what he did, insofar as the evidence is available to prove that.”