BERLIN (AP) – A 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard deported from Tennessee has agreed to be questioned by German prosecutors as they reexamine whether there is enough evidence against him to file an indictment, authorities said Monday.
Friedrich Karl Berger arrived Saturday in Frankfurt on a special flight from the US after being ordered deported to his native Germany by a court in Memphis last year.
He met with Hesse state police detectives at the airport and told them he was willing to be questioned by investigators in the presence of a lawyer, said Bernd Kolkmeier, a spokesman for the Celle prosecutor’s office, which is handling the case.
However, organizing advice and making sure they get to the facts quickly will take time, so the earliest interview like that will be next month, Kolkmeier said.
A US immigration judge ordered Berger’s deportation a year ago after discovering that his “willing service as an armed guard of prisoners in concentration camps where the abuse took place” was aiding in Nazi-sponsored persecution.
The court ruled that Berger, who has lived in the US since 1959, had served at a camp in Meppen, Germany, near the border with the Netherlands, which is a subcamp of the larger Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg.
It said during the winter of 1945, detainees at Meppen were held in “dire” conditions and exploited for forced labor outdoors, working “to exhaustion and death.”
Berger confessed to American investigators that he served in Meppen as a guard for several weeks toward the end of the war but said he had not observed harassment or murder. A Memphis court found, however, that Berger had helped guard prisoners during the forced evacuation which took nearly two weeks and claimed the lives of 70 people.
Prosecutors Celle postponed their initial investigation into him in December, saying they could not deny his account. “They are now looking again, with him returning to German soil,” said Kolkmeier.
“Nothing has changed except he is now in Germany and we can talk to him,” said Kolkmeier. “We can personally question him, which is naturally different from reading a transcript.”
Kolkmeier did not want to say whether Berger still has family in Germany or where he lives.
Berger, who was born in 1925 in the small town north of Bargen, was serving in the German Navy when he was assigned to guard prisoners at Meppen in 1945, according to the Neuengamme Memorial website.
He served between 28 January 1945 and 4 April 1945, as an attached aide to the SS commandos at the camp, according to prosecutor Celle.
Berger is being investigated under a precedent set in 2011 on the charges of former Ohio auto worker John Demjanjuk as a complement to murder over allegations that he served as a guard at Sobibor death camp in German-occupied Poland. Demjanjuk, who denied the allegations, died before his appeal was heard.
German courts have previously asked prosecutors to justify charges by providing evidence of the former guards’ participation in certain killings, which are often an almost impossible task.
However, prosecutors managed to argue during Demjanjuk’s trial in Munich that helping the camp function by serving as a guard was sufficient to convict someone linked to the murders committed there.
A federal court later upheld a 2015 sentence against former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening for the same reason.
Since the Demjanjuk indictment there has been a new flow of prosecutions and trials in Germany.
Earlier this month prosecutors charged a 100-year-old man with 3,518 murder charges over charges he served as a guard at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside Berlin, and a 95-year-old woman with 10,000 counts of murder accessories on charges that she served as secretary to a former SS commander in Stutthof camp.