Camp Guard Avoids Deportation"
THE DETROIT NEWS
September 3, 2009
Nazi keeps a nice yard.
home of Johann Leprich -- a death camp guard at the notorious
Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria where 120,000 people were
murdered during World War II -- has geraniums, a tomato patch and a
manicured blanket of grass the color of emeralds. Adding to the
incongruity are two ceramic deer prone beneath a blue spruce tree and a
statuette of a cotton-tail bunny.
has long been ordered deported from the United States for lying about
his past, but he managed to avoid it due to loopholes in the law. Now,
after decades of legal limbo, there may be a country willing to take
him and try him for war crimes.
a knock at Leprich's door last week revealed no one. Could it be that
the Nazi has again disappeared down a rabbit hole?
84, illegally entered the United States in 1952 and was awarded
citizenship in 1958. The blue-eyed, silver-haired Romanian-German lived
the good life, buying a tidy ranch house on Capper Drive for $10,000 in
1976 and making a living as a tool-and-die man.
the law caught up to him. In 1987, a Detroit immigration judge stripped
him of his citizenship for lying about his death camp service on his
Leprich was released pending a deportation hearing. Predictably, he ran.
feds did not pursue Leprich -- choosing to believe his wife and
neighbors who said he had fled to Windsor. But if Leprich did indeed go
to Canada, he did not go for long. His neighbors said they saw him
taking walks under the cover of darkness over the years. He renewed his
driver's license in person. His Social Security check was sent to his
Clinton Township home. He even told his neighbors he was a Nazi.
knew he was in the SS and worked at a camp," said Ike Sonntag, who
lives directly across Capper Drive. "But why go after him now? To me
it's a big fat waste of money because I think the guy's going to die."
would have lived out his days in peace, if he had not been hounded by Steven Rambam, one
of the world's great Nazi hunters, and his associate, Bob Kowalkowski,
who had been hired by a group of New York businessmen to find Leprich.
The gumshoes tracked the Nazi to his house in 1997.
it took six more years for the feds to come get Leprich. Federal agents
found him cowering in a secret compartment beneath his stairs. He was
arrested and the authorities waited three years for Germany or Hungary
or Romania to accept him. After those countries refused to take him,
the American government released Leprich in 2006 and removed his
electronic tracking bracelet a year later.
Department of Justice issued this terse statement: "We continue to seek
his removal to another country," said Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman.
comes a Spanish prosecutor who has called for an international arrest
warrant for Johann Leprich, saying evidence shows he acted as an
accessory to genocide and crimes against humanity. The decision to
issue an international arrest warrant and request for extradition now
rests with a Spanish judge, who has been hearing evidence in the matter
Rambam returned to Clinton Township to knock on the Nazi's door.
tried the neighbor. She answered, wary like a hen in a strange barn.
She would not open the screen.
detective inquired about the whereabouts of Leprich.
such a nice man," the old woman said in a thick Mittel-European accent.
"He shared tomatoes. He volunteered at church. It is not possible."
think it's disturbing that you make excuses for this guy," Rambam
answered. He explained to her that Leprich not only volunteered for
service at the concentration camp but that he belonged to the elite
Death's Head Battalion of the Waffen SS, one of the most brutal outfits
in the Nazi regime.
you think that when you take him that your people are coming back?" she
said through the screen.
people?" Rambam asked with an arch of the eyebrow.
I think that maybe you are a Jew?" She giggled.
have to watch out for those Jews," said Rambam, a Jew.
forgot about it," said the old woman. "It's best."
Offen cannot forget about it. He is a survivor of Mauthausen, a young
Jew who was interned there from June 1944 through May 5, 1945, when
American forces liberated him. Though Offen does not remember Leprich,
he does remember men like him who stood sentry on the perimeter of the
camp and the quarry where Offen was forced to work at slave labor.
Offen lives just 30 miles from Leprich
were 180 steps in the quarry," remembered Offen, now 88. "Run down.
Pick up a big stone, put it on your shoulder. All day long. Run down.
Run up. Run down and up with that heavy stone on your shoulders. The
Nazis were so cruel they did not even have to use bullets to kill us.
All they did was push us down to our death, from the top of the quarry
to the floor of the quarry.
know Leprich's neighbors probably claim he is such a nice person. But
how can they claim these people are not murderers?" Offen asked. "If we
survivors never get justice, then how can we say anything will change?"
has not been a good summer for Nazi death camp guards hiding in the
United States. Other suspects in the Spanish probe, Anton Tittjung and
Josias Kumpf, both living in Wisconsin, may be deported. A fourth
suspect -- retired Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk -- was deported from
the United States to Germany earlier this year.
then came news earlier this week that yet another war criminal living
in Detroit -- John Kalymon, an 88-year-old retired autoworker living in
Troy -- faces deportation.
federal judge determined that Kalymon was a member of the Ukrainian
Auxiliary Police who fired shots while rounding up and deporting Jews
during the war.
cried on his front porch Monday, telling an Associated Press reporter:
"I love this country because it's my country. I'm going to die here,"
for Leprich, no answer at his door. His neighbors claim they haven't
seen him in months. Someone must be cutting his grass and weeding the
he's not home, I don't know where he is," said Joseph McGinness,
Leprich's Cleveland-based lawyer. "But the (federal government) doesn't
want this kind of publicity. It looks ugly taking a guy out of his
house in a wheelchair, putting him on an airplane and taking him to
Germany and try him. I doubt he'll go anywhere."
so Rambam, the Nazi hunter, stood in Leprich's driveway, having got his
man, but his man still getting away with it.
astounded," he said. "He's a killer, a murderer, and he's living the
good life within driving distance of Holocaust survivors, and no one
seems to care."
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