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Case Against Ex-camp Guard is Landmark for Nazi-hunting Bureau

June 6, 2005
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When a U.S. judge recently revoked the citizenship of a former Nazi concentration camp guard living in Wisconsin, it marked a milestone. The case was the 100th successfully prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations against ex-Nazis in the United States.

Josias Kumpf, 80, admitted that he served as an armed guard at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin and at SS labor camps in France and Poland.

He also acknowledged that he was at Trawniki, Poland, during Operation Harvest Festival in 1943, in which Nazis gunned down some 7,000 men, women and children.

Kumpf said he never actively or directly engaged in murder. But Judge Lynn Adelman of the U.S. District Court of Wisconsin said in his ruling, “In the present case, the government has demonstrated by clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence that defendant personally assisted in the persecution of prisoners.”

Kumpf immigrated to the United States from the former Yugoslovia in 1956, and became a U.S. citizen in 1964.

Adelman said Kumpf’s actions violated the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, which prohibits a person who had “personally advocated or assisted persecution” from obtaining citizenship.

According to the court, Kumpf guarded a pit full of Jewish prisoners who were “halfway alive” and “still convuls[ing],” with instructions to “shoot to kill” anyone who tried to escape.

“He was part of the mechanism of annihilation,” said Eli Rosenbaum, the OSI’s director.

Kumpf’s lawyer, Peter Rogers, has said he will appeal the decision.

Since the United States lacks the legal jurisdiction to prosecute Kumpf for his deeds as a Nazi guard, Rosenbaum said the office intends to work with other countries to have him tried somewhere in Europe.

OSI was founded in 1979 to investigate those who took part in Nazi-sponsored persecution before and during World War II and who later entered the United States illegally or fraudulently.

Rosenbaum said the office’s success stems from an assiduous effort to comb through the records of some 70,000 Europeans who entered the United States after World War II.

“There is a common misconception that these cases are set off by Nazi hunters or survivors,” Rosenbaum said. Instead, he said, “Nearly all the cases of the past two decades trace their origins to an aggressive, proactive approach.”

That approach runs counter to traditional criminal investigations, which usually begin with evidence of a crime and then proceed to determine its perpetrator.

In contrast, OSI begins its investigations by probing government records of individuals who may have been in a position to commit crimes, and then tries to determine if they actually did.

“It’s often a needle in a haystack,” Rosenbaum said.

To facilitate the organization’s legwork, OSI employs several professional historians, who conduct full-time research on former Nazi war criminals.

Rosenbaum noted that OSI currently is investigating about 60 other people for their possible involvement in Nazi persecution. Twenty additional cases are pending in court.

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