On Friday, February 19, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) deported Friedrich Karl Berger, a 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, to Germany.
In 1945, Berger served as an armed guard of concentration camp prisoners in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp system (Neuengamme), and participated in Nazi-sponsored persecution.
Participating in the investigation and prosecution was the Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, ICE’s Office of Principal Legal Advisor (Memphis, Tennessee), Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC) and Homeland Security Investigations’ field office in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“We are committed to ensuring the United States will not serve as a safe haven for human rights violators and war criminals,” said acting ICE Director Tae Johnson, “We will never cease to pursue those who persecute others. This case exemplifies the steadfast dedication of both ICE and the Department of Justice to pursue justice and to hunt relentlessly for those who participated in one of history’s greatest atrocities, no matter how long it takes.”
“Berger’s removal demonstrates the Department of Justice’s and its law enforcement partners’ commitment to ensuring that the United States is not a safe haven for those who have participated in Nazi crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses,” said Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson. “The Department marshaled evidence that our Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section found in archives here and in Europe, including records of the historic trial at Nuremberg of the most notorious former leaders of the defeated Nazi regime. In this year in which we mark the 75th anniversary of the Nuremberg convictions, this case shows that the passage even of many decades will not deter the Department from pursuing justice on behalf of the victims of Nazi crimes.”
After a two-day trial in February 2020, the presiding judge in Memphis, Tennessee issued an opinion finding that Meppen prisoners were held during the winter of 1945 in “atrocious” conditions and were exploited for outdoor forced labor, working “to the point of exhaustion and death.” Berger also guarded prisoners to prevent them from escaping during their dawn-to-dusk workday, on their way to worksites and on their way back to the SS-run subcamp in the evening. Berger admitted to that charge.
The Nazis abandoned Meppen at the end of March 1945 as allied British and Canadian forces advanced. Berger helped guard the prisoners during their forcible evacuation to the Neuengamme main camp – a nearly two-week trip under inhumane conditions, which claimed the lives of some 70 prisoners.
British occupation authorities in Germany charged SS Obersturmführer Hans Griem, who had headed the Meppen sub-camps, and other Meppen personnel with war crimes for “ill-treatment and murder of Allied nationals.” Although Griem escaped before trial in 1946, the British court tried and convicted the remaining defendants of war crimes in 1947.
On Feb. 28, 2020, the judge ruled that Berger was removable under the 1978 Holtzman Amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act because his “willing service as an armed guard of prisoners at a concentration camp where persecution took place” constituted assistance in Nazi-sponsored persecution. In November, 2020, the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the judge’s ruling.
The decision also cited Berger’s admission that he never requested a transfer from concentration camp guard service and that he continues to receive a pension from Germany based on his employment in Germany, “including his wartime service.”