The Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations has initiated legal action to revoke the U.S. citizenship of two alleged Nazi war criminals.
On Sept. 9, the department filed a complaint against Jozsef Szendi, a Hungarian emigre living in Cookeville, Tenn., who allegedly took part in the persecution of Jews and others in Budapest during World War II.
Among the activities Szendi is alleged to have undertaken was a raid on a building in Budapest where Jews had been hidden under the aegis of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.
And on Sept. 10, the Justice Department announced it had filed a complaint to revoke the citizenship of Anton Bless, a recent resident of Lecanto, Fla., who is accused of concealing his service in the SS as a Nazi concentration camp guard.
But the department said it had been informed by Bless’ attorney that his client had fled the country after being told the complaint was to be filed.
The attorney said Bless does not plan to return to the United States. It was not reported where he went.
The complaint against Bless was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The department alleged that Bless, 67, a retired machinist, joined the Waffen SS in 1942 and served in the SS Death’s Head Battalion at Auschwitz.
According to the complaint, Bless, an ethnic German from Yugoslavia, concealed his service as an SS guard in 1956, when he entered the United States from Salzburg, Austria, and in 1964, when he applied for U.S. citizenship, which he was granted.
The case against Szendi, a retired 77-year-old janitor, is the first filed by the Justice Department against a Hungarian charged to have been a Nazi war criminal.
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Nashville by the department’s Criminal Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee.
The confluence of these charges and the decision in the same court to investigate Justice Department conduct in the case of John Demjanjuk is only a coincidence, a government source said.
According to the government complaint, Szendi voluntarily joined the Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie and personally transported Jewish civilians from Budapest to the German SS in Poland.
From 1939 to 1941, the Gendarmerie deported between 16,000 and 18,000 Jews from throughout Hungary to Poland, where the SS shot them dead.
The formal complaint against Szendi said that in 1941, he participated in confining Hungarian Jews in ghettos and deporting them to the Auschwitz death camp complex in Poland, where most were murdered in the camp’s gas chamber.
Two years ago, a Canadian court acquitted Imre Finta, a Hungarian official in the Royal Gendarmerie, for similar activities in the southern Hungarian city of Szeged.
The Supreme Court of Ontario acquitted Finta of the forcible confinement of 8,617 Jews in Szeged between May and June 1944, and of robbing detainees while threatening violence. All were deported to Auschwitz.
But unlike the proceedings in Canada, the Justice Department case against Szendi need only prove that he concealed his wartime activities from U.S. immigration officials.
The U.S. complaint alleges that after his initial period of persecutions, from 1939 to 1941, Szendi became a member of the armed commando wing of a Hungarian terrorist organization, the National Organization of Accountability, which was controlled by the fascist Arrow Cross. The commando group was responsible for assaults, torture, killings of public officials, diplomats, political figures and unarmed Jewish civilians.
The government charged that Szendi personally assisted in the persecution of unarmed Jews and others, including participating in a 1944 armed raid on a building in Budapest in search of Jews hidden there by a rescue program directed by Wallenberg.
According to the complaint, Szendi misrepresented and concealed his wartime activities when applying for immigration to the United States in 1956 and when he applied for U.S. citizenship in 1964.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles praised the Justice Department’s announcement but found bitter irony in the fact that someone who allegedly persecuted the Jews whom Wallenberg had tried to save had himself been saved by America.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, said, “While we applaud the OSI announcement today, we find it outrageous that the persecutor of ‘Wallenberg’s Jews’ found safe haven in the United States even as America virtually abandoned the Holocaust’s greatest Christian hero to his fate after he was arrested by the Soviets in 1945.”