A man who allegedly killed inmates at the Mauthausen concentration camp is being targeted for investigation.
A probe into Alexander Schweidler is being urged by a disbanded parliamentary group that lobbied for the prosecution of suspected Nazi war criminals in Britain.
Slovakian-born Schweidler, now 78 and living in the English town of Milton Keynes, is 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.
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 group agreed to ask 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.
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 was 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.
However, Janner said he did have evidence that Schweidler was involved in wartime atrocities. The evidence, he said, came in a U.S. Justice Department investigation that concluded he should be “deported because he was a war criminal.”
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. He is now prohibited from returning to the United States
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.
Issuing the deportation order in December 1993, the U.S. immigration judge said, “A persecutor, regardless of the passage of time since his vile acts, should not be allowed to remain in the United States once he is discovered. There should be no protective umbrella of law to erase the harm and suffering he has caused.”
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.
It is believed that the British soldiers were members of the Special Operations Executive, which waged a covert war against Germany behind enemy lines.
Born in the Slovakian town of Pressburg in 1922, Schweidler was part of the ethnic German minority and admits to being a supporter of Hitler.
Schweidler said he was proud when he was chosen to serve in the SS and was awarded the Iron Cross for his actions in campaigns against Holland and France. In February 1941, he became a German citizen and in September of that year, he was wounded.
Three months later, at the age of 20, he was posted to the Austrian concentration camp.
While Mauthausen was not classified as a death camp, 86,185 of the 191,938 prisoners who entered did not survive.
“Mauthausen was a revolting, awful concentration camp,” said Janner. “It would be revolting to me to have living next door someone who was a guard at that camp.”
Janner acknowledged that the police did not have enough time to investigate Kalejs before he left the country, but, he said, they do have time for a thorough investigation of Schweidler.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.