BLAME HITLER AND THE HOLOCAUST
Holocaust justice hits a wall: Exile or mercy for old Nazi guards?
By David Ashenfelter
Detroit Free Press, Wed, Dec. 06, 2006
DETROIT - John Kalymon, Johann Leprich and Iwan Mandycz are old men now, hobbled by the same aches and pains that plague many senior citizens in their 80s. Only these men are not ordinary senior citizens.
In the 1940s, the U.S. Department of Justice says, they helped the Nazi killing machine as it steamrolled across Europe, exterminating millions of people deemed enemies of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
As it has in scores of similar cases, the government has gone to court to strip all three Detroit men of their U.S. citizenship so they can be deported.
But getting rid of them has created a moral, legal and diplomatic dilemma. Their families and neighbors regard them as harmless old men who were victims, forced to choose between the Nazi juggernaut or death. Survivors of the Holocaust regard them as tormentors who helped mercilessly kill their loved ones and friends. And the federal government, which is racing to expel them from the country before they die, is having a tough time finding European countries to take them.
"If their mothers and fathers had been killed and if they saw what I saw, they would feel differently," William Weiss, a Holocaust survivor from Detroit who lost his mother, father and two sisters during the war, said last week in response to suggestions that the government should let bygones be bygones.
Eli Rosenbaum, head of the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations, is mainly concerned about making travel arrangements for the men.
"Right now, we have six people who we could put on a plane tomorrow," Rosenbaum said, adding that Leprich is one of the six.
"In recent years, we've had great difficulty persuading European nations to take these people back," Rosenbaum said. "And in some cases, we've hit a brick wall."
Rosenbaum said many European countries are too embarrassed to take back people they can't prosecute because they lack the laws or the desire to do so.
Jonathan Drimmer, a former deputy director of the Office of Special Investigations and lead prosecutor in the Mandycz case, said many countries don't want the old men because they don't want to take care of them. And leaning on foreign governments to take them back isn't high on Washington's priority list because of other pressing international issues.
The problem became apparent in October when the Office of Special Investigations reluctantly agreed to release Leprich to his family on an electronic tether after 39 months in federal custody because Romania, Hungary and Germany wouldn't accept him. Kalymon and Mandycz are free.
Leprich, an ethnic German born in Romania, served as an SS Death's Head Battalion guard in 1943-44 at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Nazi-held Austria. An estimated 119,000 Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses and others died at the camp.
A federal judge in Detroit stripped Leprich of his citizenship in 1987 for concealing his wartime service to the Nazis before coming to the United States. After losing his citizenship, Leprich went to Canada before the government could initiate deportation proceedings.
Federal agents arrested him in 2003 as he hid in a secret compartment under a stairwell in the home he shared with his wife in Clinton Township, Mich. The agents had a judge lock him up as a flight risk.
Leprich, like Kalymon, declined to be interviewed or photographed for this story. Mandycz's lawyer didn't return calls and no one answered the door of Mandycz's home.
Kalymon and Leprich admitted working for the Nazis during the war, but said they did so because they had to and never persecuted anyone. Mandycz denied working for the Nazis, but a judge found otherwise. Leprich and Mandycz were concentration camp guards. Kalymon worked for a Nazi-run auxiliary police force in wartime Poland.
Leprich's lawyer, Joseph McGinness of Cleveland, has defended several people whom the government calls "Nazi persecutors" and accused the government of heavy-handed tactics. He said men like Leprich were compelled to work for the Nazis. He said they merely guarded camp perimeters and were never allowed to enter areas where prisoners were kept. "The man isn't guilty of anything," McGinness said of Leprich. "Do you have any idea how little influence a 17-year-old private ... in the Waffen SS had? The only influence they had was to go out and get their head shot off on the Eastern Front."
But McGinnis' argument doesn't go down well with Holocaust experts like Professor Sidney Bolkosky of the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
"You couldn't guard one of those camps and not have some degree of complicity in brutality," Bolkosky said, adding that decades of research have failed to produce a single case of anyone being shot or shipped to the Eastern Front for refusing to help persecute Jews.
He said there are many instances of people being shot or imprisoned for helping rescue Jews. He said there must be consequences - such as deportation - for Nazi persecutors.
For years, the U.S. government did little to prevent them from immigrating to the United States or to make them leave.
From the end of the war until the late 1970s, only one person was stripped of citizenship for helping the Nazis - Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan, a Queens, N.Y., homemaker and Austrian- born concentration camp guard who was extradited to Germany in 1973. Former prisoners called her "the Stomping Mare" because they said she stomped old women to death with steel-studded jackboots.
U.S. officials began taking an interest in Nazi persecutors in the early 1970s, after then U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, D-N.Y., was shocked to discover that federal immigration officials maintained a list of suspected Nazi persecutors living in the United States but did nothing to remove them.
She persuaded Congress to pass legislation in 1978 to denaturalize and deport participants in wartime persecution. The Office of Special Investigations was created the next year. Since then, OSI lawyers have investigated 1,700 suspected Nazi persecutors, stripped 84 of their citizenship and deported 63. The office has 50 open Nazi-era investigations and 15 cases in litigation. It has lost only nine cases.
One of its targets was Kalymon, who in 1942-44 served in the Nazi-run Ukrainian Auxiliary Police. The government says the force helped the Germans round up nearly all of the 100,000 Jewish residents of L'viv, Poland, to be killed.
The government asked a federal judge in Detroit in January 2004 to strip Kalymon of his citizenship after discovering captured wartime documents from the former Soviet Union showing that he repeatedly shot at Jews who tried to escape during roundups. Kalymon killed one Jew and wounded another, the reports said.
During 3 1 / 2 hours of trial testimony in September, Kalymon insisted he never shot his rifle, never persecuted any Jews and never saw any Jews being mistreated or killed in L'viv.
He also denied submitting a handwritten report showing that an Ivan Kalymun fired four shots during a roundup of Jews at 7 p.m. Aug. 14, 1942, wounding one and killing another.
Kalymon and his lawyer, David Domina, insisted Kalymon is a victim of mistaken identity. They said the shooting reports, which officers submitted to account for ammunition, were created by a precinct commander who was stealing ammunition to sell on the black market.
Kalymon admitted lying to U.S. authorities about his wartime activities on his visa application in 1949. Kalymon, who was born in Poland, said he was afraid of winding up in the hands of the Soviets, who he said killed his wife's father, a Greek Orthodox priest.
After arriving in the United States, Kalymon and his wife, Lubow, moved to Detroit, where he worked as a draftsman for Chrysler. He retired in 1989 after 25 years of service.
His son, Alexander Kalymon, said the past two years have been hard for his family. "Can you imagine how difficult it is to prove your innocence when no one from that time period is still alive?" Alexander Kalymon said. "Where do you get the resources to even find out? The government has almost unlimited resources."
He said he doesn't know what his family will do if U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani strips his father of citizenship, paving the way for deportation proceedings. John Kalymon's neighbor Eleanor Rink, who worked with Kalymon's wife years ago, said she feels bad for the couple. "They're absolutely wonderful neighbors," Rink said. She said John Kalymon helps remove snow from her sidewalks since her husband died 10 years ago.
But Weiss, the Holocaust survivor, was skeptical of Kalymon's court testimony. "How could he not have known what was going on?" said Weiss, 81, who was born in L'viv and lost both sisters and his mother during roundups of Jews conducted by the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police.
Weiss, who survived several concentration camps and prisons and watched his father die when the Nazis forced them to march to a camp, said Ukrainian Auxiliary Police officers were a constant and brutal presence in the L'viv ghetto.
Weiss testified last year in Chicago in a similar court case against another former Ukrainian Auxiliary Police officer and at one point was asked to testify at Kalymon's trial. Meanwhile, Rosenbaum warns the suspects not to get too comfortable with the idea of remaining in the United States. "The message I would have for Leprich and the others is this: I suggest you keep your bags packed because we don't give a lot of notice when it's time to go," Rosenbaum said. "The time will come."
Three Detroit-area men are facing possible deportation for allegedly helping the Nazis kill and persecute Jews and other civilians during World War II. A look at them and three other Michigan cases:
_Iwan Mandycz, 86
Nationality: Born in a Polish village that now is part of Ukraine.
War history: In 1943, served as a guard at SS-run Trawniki and Poniatowa slave labor camps in Poland. Justice Department says Mandycz's unit cordoned off Poniatowa camp on Nov. 4, 1943, so SS and German police could march 14,000 Jewish men, women and children into trenches to be shot.
How he got to U.S.: Concealed Nazi service to immigrate in 1949 and became a citizen in 1955.
Afterward: Was a Chrysler autoworker, retired in 1983. Federal judge revoked his citizenship in 2005. Justice Department is deciding whether to seek deportation. Family said he has Alzheimer's disease.
What he says: Denies working for Nazis.
_John Kalymon, 85
Nationality: Ethnic Ukrainian, born in Poland.
War history: Justice Department says he joined the Nazi-run Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, which helped the Nazis exterminate most of the 100,000 Jewish residents of L'viv, Poland, in 1942-43. Wartime records say he fired several shots at Jews, killing one and wounding another, in 1942 roundups.
How he got to U.S.: Concealed Nazi service to immigrate in 1949; became a citizen in 1955.
Afterward: Worked as a draftsman for Chrysler and retired in 1989 after 25 years.
Status: Government has asked a federal judge to strip him of citizenship so he can be deported.
What he says: Admits lying on visa application, but denies shooting or persecuting Jews.
_Johann Leprich, 81
Nationality: Ethnic German, born in Romania.
War history: Justice Department says he was member of the SS Death's Head Battalion and guarded prisoners in 1943-44 at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Nazi-held Austria, where some 119,000 Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, Poles and others were starved, beaten and killed.
How he got to U.S.: Immigrated in 1952 and became citizen in 1958 after falsely claiming he had served in the Hungarian army and lived on a farm during the war.
Afterward: Worked at a Fraser machine shop. Went to Canada in 1987 after a federal judge stripped him of his citizenship. Found hiding in his wife's home in 2003 and then jailed. Federal judge ordered him deported in 2003, but he was freed in October until officials can find a country to take him.
What he says: He was forced to join the SS, guarded the perimeter of the camp and never persecuted anyone.
History: In 1942-44, he was a member of the SS Death's Head Battalion at the Majdanek concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, where tens of thousands of Jews, Poles, Gypsies and other prisoners were tortured and killed.
Status: Surrendered his U.S. citizenship in 1988, but was allowed to stay in the United States because of heart problems. Died in 1997 at age 82.
History: Former SS Death's Head Battalion guard at Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland and Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where thousands of prisoners were starved, beaten, tortured and killed. He said he belonged to an SS combat group, not a concentration camp unit.
Status: Deported to Austria in 2000 at age 78.
_Archbishop Valerian Trifa
History: Head of the 35,000-member Romanian Orthodox Church in the United States. As leader of the Iron Guard, a pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic student group, he gave a speech in 1941 that sparked four days of anti-Jewish riots in Bucharest, Romania. Hundreds of Jews died.
Status: Deported to Lisbon, Portugal, in 1984 and died there in 1987 at age 72.
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