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Ex-Nazi camp guard extradited from US to Germany

Suspected of “complicity in murders” and now 95 years old, Friedrich Karl Berger, former guard of a Nazi concentration camp, was extradited on Saturday from the United States to Germany where justice could resume prosecution against him.

He believes he obeyed orders. At 95, Friedrich Karl Berger, a former guard of a Nazi concentration camp, was extradited on Saturday February 20 from the United States, where he had lived since 1959, to Germany. Suspected of “complicity in murders”, the German justice will then be able to resume the prosecution against him, after a first attempt in December.

Left from the American state of Tennessee in a medical plane, the German Friedrich Karl Berger landed at the end of the morning at the airport of Frankfurt (center) where he must now be questioned by investigators of the criminal police of the Land of Hesse.

“We received the order from the general prosecutor’s office in Celle to question Mr. B. on the accusation of complicity in murder,” Sebastian Wolf, spokesman for the criminal police in this region, told AFP.

Despite his great age, Karl Berger would be in good health and able to follow an interrogation.

However, the prosecutor of Celle, in charge of the case but which had abandoned the proceedings against him at the end of December for lack of sufficient evidence, remains pessimistic about the possibility of a trial: there will “probably not” be any new investigation unless Karl Berger “makes a detailed confession,” Attorney General Bernd Kolkmeier told AFP.

Karl Berger had moved to Tennessee in 1959 and had lived there without anyone knowing about his past for many years. It wasn’t until Nazi-era documents bearing his name were found in 1950 in a sunken ship in the Baltic Sea that investigators started looking for him.

Accomplice or coerced ?

He is suspected by American justice of having been an accomplice in the death of prisoners while he was a guard between January and April 1945 in the concentration camp complex in Neuengamme, south-east of Hamburg (north), and in one of its outer camps near Meppen, in particular during an evacuation operation in March 1945.

The American court specializing in immigration cases had decided in March to deport him to Germany for “having voluntarily served as an armed guard of a concentration camp where persecution took place”.

During his interrogations in the United States, Karl Berger had admitted to having been a guard in this camp for a time, declaring, however, that he had no knowledge of mistreatment inflicted on prisoners or of deaths among detainees: he considers that he only obeyed the instructions. orders.

“We are determined to ensure that the United States does not serve as a safe haven for perpetrators of human rights abuses and war criminals,” the acting director of the police agency said in a statement. US Customs Officer (ICE), Tae Johnson.

The US government created in 1979 a program dedicated to the search and deportation of former Nazis living in the United States. Since then, 68 people have been expelled in this context.

The previous one took place in August 2018 and concerned a 95-year-old former SS guard, Jakiw Palij, who had been living in New York since 1949. However, he died five months later.

“Failure of the German judicial system”

The Neuengamme concentration camp was originally founded in 1938 as a sub-camp of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, located further east in Brandenburg. It then became an independent concentration camp in 1940.

According to the camp memorial, the prisoners were used there as forced laborers for the war economy: 106,000 people were deported there, 55,000 of whom died, most of them from exhaustion at work.

In recent years, Germany has tried and convicted several former SS members and extended to camp guards the charge of complicity in murder, illustrating the increased severity, although deemed very late by the victims, of its justice.

“The survivors, who are now all very old, have waited all their lives for the perpetrators of these crimes to be held accountable,” recently criticized Christoph Heubner, executive vice-president of the Auschwitz International Committee.

He reacted after the indictment, in early February, of a former secretary of the Stutthof concentration camp (now Poland), now 95 years old for complicity in murders by the German justice system.

“That this only happens now is a failure and an oversight of the German judicial system which spans decades,” he lambasted.

With AFP