March 7, 2021

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Feds deport former Nazi concentration camp guard who lived for years in Tennessee

A 95-year-old resident of Oak Ridge has been deported for his role in guarding a Nazi concentration camp in Germany during World War II, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Saturday.

German authorities confirmed Friedrich Karl Berger arrived Saturday in Frankfurt and was turned over to investigators for questioning, the Associated Press reported.

Berger had been fighting efforts to deport him for at least a year. An immigration judge in Memphis held in February 2020 that Berger could be deported under a 1978 federal law called the Holtzman Amendment because he willingly served as an “armed guard of prisoners at a concentration camp where persecution took place,” the DOJ said in a news release.

Friedrich Karl Berger is shown in an undated photo.

The court found Berger helped guard a subcamp near Meppen, Germany, that held primarily Russian, Dutch and Polish civilians in addition to Jewish prisoners and political opponents of the Nazis. During the winter of 1945, the court found, prisoners there were held in “atrocious” conditions and were worked “to the point of exhaustion and death.”

When the Nazis abandoned the camp, Berger helped guard the prisoners during a forced evacuation to the Neuengamme concentration camp. The “inhumane” trip spanned two weeks and claimed the lives of about 70 prisoners, the release states.

In an interview with the Washington Post last year, Berger said he was a 19-year-old in the German navy when he was ordered to work in the camp during the waning months of the war. He said he was only there for a short time and denied carrying a weapon.

“After 75 years, this is ridiculous. I cannot believe it,” Berger told the newspaper. “I cannot understand how this can happen in a country like this. You’re forcing me out of my home.”

A rose lies on one of the concrete steles of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust memorial) in Berlin on Jan. 27, 2020, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.

Prosecutors said Berger admitted he never requested a transfer from the concentration camp guard service. While living in Oak Ridge, where he said he made a living building wire-stripping machines, he continued to receive a pension from Germany based in part on his wartime service, according to the release.

An index card recovered from a sunken ship helped build the case against Berger, the Washington Post reported. The card, which contained details of Berger’s work, was among 2,000 stored on a German ship that was bombed by British planes in 1945.

Berger moved to Canada after the war, then came to the U.S. in 1959.

German prosecutors said in December they had been unable to refute Berger’s account that he did not observe any abuse at the concentration camp, the Associated Press reported. The prosecutors said they would take another look at the case when Berger was returned to Germany.