Friedrich Karl Berger arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, on Saturday. Last year, a court in Memphis ordered Berger back to his homeland. The 95-year-old could face a court trial—as a former Nazi concentration camp guard.
German police detectives met Berger at the airport. German prosecutors say they will re-examine the evidence in his case. They want to know whether there is enough to bring charges against him, authorities say.
The former guard says he is willing to be questioned with a lawyer present, according to Bernd Kolkmeier, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office. Such an interview could take place next month, Kolkmeier says.
A U.S. immigration judge ordered Berger deported a year ago. The judge ruled that Berger’s “willing service as an armed guard of prisoners at a concentration camp where persecution took place” aided Nazi perpetuation of horrors against innocent people. The court found that Berger, who had been living in the United States since 1959, had served at a camp in Meppen, Germany, near the border with the Netherlands.
Berger served in the German Navy. He was assigned to guard prisoners in Meppen in 1945. He served between January 28, 1945, and April 4, 1945, with the SS (Schutzstaffel—a paramilitary organization that operated like a government-empowered secret police) command of the camp, according to prosecutors.
During the winter of 1945, prisoners in Meppen were held in “atrocious” conditions and exploited for outdoor forced labor “to the point of exhaustion and death.”
Berger admitted to American investigators that he served in Meppen as a guard near the end of the war. But he said he did not observe any abuse or killings.
Prosecutors stopped investigating him in December. They said they could not refute his account. Now they’re having another look at him back on German soil.
“Nothing has changed except that he is now in Germany, and we can talk with him,” Kolkmeier says.
Berger is being investigated under a precedent established in 2011. In that case, former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk was convicted as an accessory to murder on charges that he served as a guard at the Sobibor camp in German-occupied Poland. Demjanjuk steadfastly denied the charges. He died before his appeal could be heard.
Before the Demjanjuk case, German courts required prosecutors to present evidence of a former guard’s participation in a specific killing. That was often a near-impossible task. However, prosecutors successfully argued during Demjanjuk’s trial that helping a camp function by serving as a guard was enough to convict someone of accessory to the murders committed there.
Since the Demjanjuk conviction, there has been a steady stream of new prosecutions and trials in Germany.
Earlier this month, prosecutors charged a 100-year-old man on 3,518 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served as a guard at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside Berlin. They also charged a 95-year-old woman on 10,000 counts of accessory to murder on allegations she served as the secretary to the former SS commandant of the Stutthof camp.
Be sure your sin will find you out. — Numbers 32:23
(People walk behind a Holocaust memorial in the former Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald near Weimar, Germany. AP/Jens Meyer)