The camp detained Russian, Dutch and Polish civilians, as well as Jewish prisoners and political opponents from France, Italy and other countries. During the winter of 1945, according to the removal order, prisoners were forced to live in “excruciating” conditions and to work “to the point of exhaustion and death”.
In March 1945, as British and Canadian forces approached the camp, Berger helped keep prisoners forced to evacuate to the main camp, said Department of Justice officials. During the two-week hike, 70 prisoners died.
After the war, Berger emigrated from Germany to Canada with his wife and daughter and came to the United States in 1959.
“If you had told me only a few years ago that I would find myself in February 2020 – last week – to cross-examine a former Nazi concentration camp guard in an American courtroom, I would have found that hard to believe, “said the judge. The department’s attorney, Eli Rosenbaum, who helped oversee the case and spent years in the department investigating and prosecuting Nazi war criminals in the United States.
Contacted by phone, Berger, now 94, said he was ordered to work in the camp, that he was only there for a short time and did not carry a gun. In the United States, he said he made a living building of stripping machines. He is now a widow with two grandchildren.
“After 75 years, it’s ridiculous. I can’t believe it, ”he said. “I don’t understand how it can happen in a country like this. You force me to leave my house. ”
According to the Ministry of Justice, Berger was a member of the German army and seconded to the concentration camp during the last months of the war. In a two-day trial before the immigration court last week, Berger admitted that he was keeping prisoners forced to work outside of dawn at dusk. He also said that he never asked for a transfer from the camp and that he still receives a pension from Germany for work that included his service in wartime.
Berger said that much of what was determined in court about his work at the camp was based on “lies.”
“I was 19 years old,” he said. “I was ordered to go. “
Department of Justice officials said that Berger came to the United States legally; the federal law which prohibited the entry of persons who helped the Nazi persecution had expired in 1959. At his request, Berger revealed that he had been a member of the German army.
Immigration judge Rebecca L. Holt ordered the dismissal of Berger under a law of 1978, known as the Holtzman Amendment, which prohibits anyone who participated in the Nazi-sponsored persecution from d enter or live in the United States. He has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Falls Church, Virginia Immigration Appeal Board.
“Berger was part of the SS oppressive mechanism that kept concentration camp prisoners in excruciating conditions,” said deputy attorney general Brian A. Benczkowski in a statement. “This decision shows the Department’s continued commitment to seek justice, even late, for victims of Nazi persecution in wartime. “
The Ministry of Justice launched the investigation. Prosecutors and former and current historians of the Ministry of Justice have worked with law enforcement and archive authorities in Germany, Denmark, England, Poland and Russia. Officials from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum also helped.