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With Help from Farmer’s Widow, U.S. Case Against Camp Guard Upheld

January 9, 2002
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Testimony from an Austrian farmer’s widow has helped convince a U.S. court to uphold a decision revoking the citizenship of a former Nazi concentration camp guard.

Theodor Szehinskyj, who lost his citizenship two years ago after a U.S. district court determined he had served as a Nazi guard, claims that he spent all of World War II working on an Austrian farm.

During their investigation into the case, officials with the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations located Hildegard Lechner, the widow of the owner of the farm where Szehinskyj says he spent the war years.

Lechner, 88 at the time of her testimony, said Szehinskyj had worked on the farm, but left in the summer of 1942.

“The alibi that he never left the farm was destroyed by her remarkable testimony,” said Eli Rosenbaum, director of OSI’s criminal division.

The U.S. government has maintained that Szehinskyj, who was born in Poland, served as an armed camp guard between 1943 and 1945 at three Nazi concentration camps, including Sachsenhausen. Lechner’s testimony on Szehinskyj’s departure date from the farm allows for that possibility.

An earlier court ruling had found that the government had proved its case with the help of documents found in Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

Faced with Lechner’s testimony, Szehinskyj, 77, “subtly changed” his story, the appeals court said.

His lawyer argued that the evidence was insufficient to convict him, and that even if he had been a concentration camp guard, it had not been proven that he was armed and participated in atrocities.

The judge for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Maryannne Trump Barry, rejected his arguments.

The decision could have ramifications, an OSI official said.

“The Justice Department’s continuing determination to track down those who participated in the Nazi regime’s reign of terror should also serve as a warning to modern-day perpetrators of mass murders that they will be pursued as long as it takes to bring them to justice,”said Michael Chertoff, the assistant attorney general for OSI’s criminal division.

A retired machinist living in the Philadelphia area, Szehinskyj could face deportation.

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