Germany drops probe of former Nazi guard deported from US

FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 27, 2020 file photo people walk behind the writing 'Holocaust' during the international Holocaust remembrance day in the former the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald near Weimar, Germany. Friedrich Karl Berger, a 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, was deported to his native Germany on orders from a Tennessee court. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer, file) (Jens Meyer, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BERLIN – German prosecutors said Wednesday that they have dropped an investigation of a 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard after he declined to be questioned following his deportation from the United States.

Friedrich Karl Berger arrived in his native Germany in February after being ordered deported by a court in Memphis last year. Prosecutors in the northern town of Celle said at the time that he told German police he would be willing in principle to be questioned by investigators with a lawyer present.

A U.S. immigration judge ordered Berger deported after finding that his “willing service as an armed guard of prisoners at a concentration camp where persecution took place” constituted assistance in Nazi-sponsored persecution.

The court found that Berger, who had been living in the U.S. since 1959, had served at a camp in Meppen, Germany, near the border with the Netherlands, a subcamp of the larger Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg.

It said during the winter of 1945, prisoners in Meppen were held in “atrocious” conditions and exploited for outdoor forced labor, working “to the point of exhaustion and death.”

Berger admitted to American investigators that he served in Meppen as a guard for a few weeks near the end of the war but said he did not observe any abuse or killings. The Memphis court found, however, that Berger had helped guard prisoners during a forced evacuation that took nearly two weeks and claimed the lives of 70 people.

Celle prosecutors shelved their initial investigation of him in November, saying they had been unable to refute his account. They decided to take another look after he arrived in Germany and initially signaled he was opening to questioning, but said Wednesday they have once again closed their investigation on suspicion of accessory to murder.

After Berger arrived in Germany, he was assigned a defense lawyer. The attorney then said, after consulting with Berger, that his client was “not available” for questioning as a suspect, prosecutors said in a statement.

“After exhausting all evidence,” they have now “closed the investigation again for lack of sufficient suspicion,” they added.