V I E N N A, Aug. 15, 2000 -- Austria is preparing to receive yet another relic of its Nazi past.
A New York immigration court ordered self-confessed ex-Nazi Michael Gruber, 84, deported. Gruber, of New City, NY, has admitted to his role as a Waffen SS guard in Oranienburg, Germany.
Gruber denies that he served in the SS Death’s Head Guard Battalion at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp there.
But the Nazi regime’s obsession with control, carefully documenting every move of every person in Hitler’s Third Reich, indicated otherwise.
Immigration Judge Robert Weisel said captured Nazi documents found by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations — which hunts Nazis — proved the court’s satisfaction that Gruner served at the Sachsenhausen death camp from January 1943 to September 1944.
‘A Place of Death’
Judge Weisel ruled that Sachsenhausen was “a place of death and extreme human suffering,” and that Gruber’s service there constituted assistance in the persecution of civilians on the basis of their religious or national origin — thus making him ineligible to immigrate to the United States.
“Gruber and the other SS Death’s Head guards at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp were essential components in the Nazi machinery of degradation, brutality and murder,” said Eli M. Rosenbaum, head of the special investigations office.
He called the ruling “an important victory.”
Sachsenhausen was one of the earliest and worst of the Nazi concentration camps, established in 1936. Jews, Gypsies and opponents of Hitler’s regime were herded there, often crammed into cattle trucks and passed on to the other death camps that mushroomed all over Germany and other occupied Nazi territories over the next 8 years.
Right to Appeal
Gruber has the right to appeal the verdict to the Board of Immigration Appeals, and then to the federal courts.
He entered the United States in 1956, when many former Nazis slipped through the net, silent about their past, in the postwar influx of the hungry and destitute from Europe.
He worked as a car mechanic until his retirement.
Gruber was born in Krdinja, Croatia, which at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Two years later, at the end of World War I, that empire dissolved and Croatia became independent. Most people of Austrian origin fled back into Austria or Germany.
Austrian officials will not comment on the case, but a source said it was general policy to take back anyone born an Austrian.
In the past, these ghosts of an era Austria wants to forget have been spirited away from the airport to unknown destinations and are never heard of again. None have been prosecuted.
The U.S. special investigations office has so far stripped 64 ex-Nazis of U.S. citizenship, and deported 53 of them. A further 250 are under investigation, and 17 prosecutions are currently taking place.
Canada and Australia are also involved in cleaning out this legacy of hate.
Latvia Probe Continues
Unlike Germany and Austria, Latvia is cooperating closely with overseas investigators to bring at least two of its citizens suspected of Nazi war crimes to trial. In mid-September, experts from the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany and Australia will meet for a second time on the matter.
Their investigation involves Konrad Kalejs, who surfaced last year in a U.K. geriatric unit. He fled back to Australia, where he has citizenship, to prevent being kicked out. Britain let him go because Latvia had not asked for extradition. Australia is now trying to get rid of him, and also of another Latvian, Karlis Ozols.
They stand accused of being part of the Nazi war machine, which slaughtered 95 percent of Latvia’s 70,000 pre-war Jewish population during Nazi occupation in World War II.
Latvia has reacted angrily to accusations that it was soft on Nazi war criminals. It has prosecuted none, but since emerging from the Soviet Union in 1991 it has moved to hunt down those of its citizens still alive and suspected of Nazi war crimes, the government says.
The meeting will discuss what charges can be brought against the two. An extradition demand would help shorten the arduous process of deporting them.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.