A 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard deported from the US at the weekend may escape prosecution in his native Germany.
Friedrich Karl Berger was expelled from the US after details emerged of his past as a guard at the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, where thousands of prisoners were forced to work to death. But prosecutors in Germany dropped an investigation against him last December because they could not find evidence tying him to the war crimes committed at the camp.
Mr Berger moved to the US with his family in 1959 and lived undetected for decades in Tennessee until details of his past emerged in records salvaged from a German ship sunk by the RAF in 1945.
In what may be the last Nazi war crimes case to reach the US courts, a judge ruled he had undertaken “willing service as an armed guard of prisoners at a concentration camp where persecution took place” and ordered his deportation.
But the evidence against him is not considered sufficient to secure a successful prosecution in the German courts.
A number of people have been successfully prosecuted in Germany in recent years over their roles in concentration camps, notably Oskar Gröning, the “book-keeper of Auschwitz”, who was sentenced to four years in prison in 2015. But German prosecutors say Mr Berger’s case differs because Meppen, the Neuengamme subcamp where he served “was not an extermination camp”.
More than 40,000 prisoners including Jews, Poles and Russian POWs, were killed at Neuengamme. While some were gassed and more than 16,000 died in forced marches at the end of the war, the majority were worked to death.
While the German courts have held that simply serving at an extermination camp like Auschwitz is sufficient proof of guilt, the case of Neuengamme is less clear. Prosecutors say the 379 deaths that took place at Meppen subcamp during Mr Berger’s time there cannot be proved to be intentional or systematic.
“Guarding prisoners in a concentration camp which was not used for systematic killing is not sufficient evidence of a crime,” prosecutors said in a statement.
Mr Berger will be questioned by German prosecutors but experts say he is unlikely to face charges unless he incriminates himself. He is currently at an assisted-living facility, according to his US lawyers.