Washington (Jan. 21)
– The U.S. Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision today ruled that a former Ukrainian guard at the Treblinka concentration camp in Poland during World War II had violated U.S. law in his application for United States citizenship almost II years ago and he is no longer a U.S. citizen.
As a result of the decision in the first case of an alleged Nazi war criminal ever aired before the Supreme Court, Feodor Federenko, 73, of Miami, Fla. faces deportation proceedings. There was no immediate indication when the proceedings will begin or to where he would be deported.
The case before the court was unusual in various aspects. It was the only case argued before the nation’s highest tribunal by Benjamin Civiletti in his capacity as Attorney General. It also established precedents that would affect future cases dealing with “material representation” of facts by would-be citizens.
The 27-page majority decision was written by Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall and it was joined by Justices William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist. Chief Justice Warren Burger concurred in the majority opinion and Justice Harry Blackmun approved in a concurring opinion. Dissenting from the opinion were Associate Justices Byron White and John Stevens who each gave separate opinions.
COURT DECISION HAILED
Former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D. NY), who was chairperson of the House Judiciary Subcommittee that urged the prosecution of Federenko by the U.S. Department of Justice, hailed the court’s decision. “It is a great triumph, a landmark decision,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It will be terribly important in allowing the prosecution against the remainder of the alleged Nazi war criminals in our country.”
Holtzman, who is now a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Public Administration at New York University, said that the decision shows “that if this effort had started long ago–or even in response to my concern in 1974–we would be much further along than we are now in these matters.”
Rep. Hamilton Fish (R. NY), also a member of the Judiciary Committee, told the JTA that the court decision “certainly makes the burden easier for our government with the 17 cases that our government has already on trial and the some 260 cases under investigation.”
Federenko, born in the Ukraine in 1907, was an armed guard at Treblinka at which it was estimated some 800,000 Jews and others were killed. He was charged by the U.S. government with participating in the beating and shooting of Jewish prisoners while at the camp from 1942-43. Federenko came to the U.S. in 1949 under the Displaced Persons Act and applied for citizenship in 1970 in New Haven, Conn.
BACKGROUND OF PREVIOUS HEARINGS
In proceedings filed against Federenko in August, 1977, in the U.S. District Court in Miami, he was accused of having concealed in his application for citizenship that he was an armed guard at Treblinka and engaged allegedly in atrocities against prisoners. The district court ruled, however, that his service at Treblinka was “involuntary” and that the U.S. government had not proven that he had committed war crimes. Even if he had concealed the facts, the court held, Federenko’s age and his good record since coming to the U.S. constituted equitable conditions that should allow him to retain his citizenship.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, however, decided on June 28, 1979 that the evidence was material and in reversing the lower court opinion held that the court in Miami had no power to rule that he could remain in the U.S.
The arguments before the Supreme Court were given last Oct. 15. Two particularly “critical points” stemming from the Supreme Court’s decision, sources close to the case told the JTA, is that it determines the factors of “material representation” in denaturalization proceedings and that a trial court does not have discretion to set aside material facts and consider other factors as mitigating the circumstances of violation of law relating to applications for citizenship.