LONDON, Jan. 24 (JTA) A man who allegedly killed inmates at the Mauthausen concentration camp has died at the age of 78, just days after a British group called for an investigation into his wartime activities.
The Slovakian-born Alexander Schweidler, who was living in the English town of Milton Keynes, was alleged to have committed atrocities while a member of the SS Death’s Head unit at Mauthausen in Austria, where more than 80,000 people perished.
Schweidler’s death came after the London-based Holocaust Educational Trust agreed to ask British Home Secretary Jack Straw to call on the police to reopen the files of several suspects and take steps to strip them of their British nationality.
According to Lord Greville Janner, honorary secretary of the bipartisan Parliamentary War Crimes group and president of the London-based Holocaust Educational Trust, Britain risks becoming a “retirement home” for alleged war criminals who live without fear of prosecution.
The Parliamentary War Crimes Group was set up to lobby for the introduction of legislation, which was passed in 1990 at the insistence of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The legislation which provoked a constitutional crisis after it was rejected by Britain’s unelected House of Lords permits British courts to try suspects for war crimes in Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe even though the suspects were not British citizens, their victims were not British and their alleged offenses were not perpetrated on British soil.
Legislative action was prompted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which presented the British government with a list of 17 war crimes suspects then living in Britain.
Many war criminals are believed to have found refuge in postwar, labor-starved Britain, which permitted almost unrestricted immigration of able-bodied men from Europe, including, it is believed, many Eastern European Nazi collaborators and German SS members.
One successful prosecution has been brought under the law before the group was disbanded three years ago.
The group’s resuscitation is seen as an attempt to test the British government’s political will to act against war crimes suspects.
The revelation of Schweidler’s quiet retirement on a full state pension follows the discovery earlier this month that suspected Latvian death squad member Konrad Kalejs, who is said to have been involved in killing some 30,000 Jews, was living in peaceful seclusion in an English village.
Kalejs, who had previously been deported from the United States and Canada, fled Britain earlier this month for Australia, where he had been granted citizenship shortly after the end of World War II.
But last week, the British government was plunged into fresh embarrassment when Schweidler was traced to a council estate.
British police say he was questioned about specific allegations in 1996. Further inquiries were made in Austria, but officials decided there was insufficient evidence to offer a realistic chance of a conviction.
Schweidler was informed in 1997 that no further action would be taken against him.
Schweidler, who served at Mauthausen from January 1942 until its liberation by American troops in May 1945, arrived in Britain in 1948.
He was naturalized as a British citizen in 1964 and the following year he emigrated to the United States, where he worked his way up from cleaner to computer programmer.
Schweidler was identified as a Mauthausen guard during a routine U.S. immigration screening and was deported to Britain in 1994.
During the course of its investigations, the U.S. Office of Special Investigations discovered a wartime report, apparently signed by Schweidler, in which he described how he had killed two prisoners as they tried to escape from Mauthausen in April 1942.
Schweidler denied the killing and claimed that he was ordered to sign the document by a senior officer. Nevertheless, he consented to being deported from the United States.
The London Guardian reported last Friday that it had seen documents that show Schweidler was a member of the SS unit that shot a group of 48 prisoners, including seven British soldiers, on Sept. 6 and 7, 1944.