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Nazi concentration camp guard who says he was forced to fight for Hitler takes U.S. deportation battle to highest court
More from Headline
- Anton Geiser, 88, claims he was forced to join the SS as a 17-year-old
- He has lived in Sharon, Pennsylvania for over 50 years
- He didn't tell his family about his Nazi service until 2004
- Justice department lawyers said he engaged in 'crimes against humanity'
By Daniel Miller
PUBLISHED: 04:29 EST, 7 December 2012 | UPDATED: 07:02 EST, 7 December 2012
Former Nazi guard Anton Geiser, 88, has appealed against a deportation ruling arguing he was forced to serve in the SS
A former Nazi concentration camp guard, who has lived in the U.S. for more than 50 years, has launched an appeal arguing he should not be deported because he was forced to join the SS as a teenager.
The case of Anton Geiser, 88, was yesterday being heard at the Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, the nation's highest immigration court, where his lawyer argued that he had served in Hitler's army against his will.
At a 2010 hearing, Geiser, of Sharon, Pa, acknowledged serving in the Nazi SS as a guard in the Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald concentration camps for which a federal judge ordered he should be deported to any country that would take him, of which one possibility was Austria.
But his lawyer Adrian Roe argued that the court should have considered that Geiser was forced to join the SS against his will as a 17-year-old.
Government lawyers argued to uphold the deportation saying federal law places former Nazis in a harsher immigration category, and no exceptions should be made because of compulsory service.
Mr Roe acknowledged that Congress did indeed place Nazis in a separate, harsher category when it comes to determining their rights to immigrate to and live in the U.S. But he said that not everyone conscripted into the Hitler war machine is truly a Nazi.
He argued: 'The label Nazi itself sort of goes to belief. If they were a true believer, we don't want them here. If they were a forced participant, are they really a Nazi?'
Geiser, who was recently hospitalized, did not attend yesterday's hearing.
He came to the U.S. in 1956 and was naturalized in 1962. He lived in Sharon, about 75 miles north of Pittsburgh, where he worked in a steel mill for decades and raised five children.
Justice Department lawyer Susan Siegal questioned whether Geiser's service as a camp guard was truly involuntary.
She said he could have requested a transfer back to the Russian front, where he was initially serving, or that he could have simply walked away from service or defied immoral orders.
She said the Nuremberg trials after World War II and military code established the precedent that following immoral orders is not an adequate defense.
'I'm sorry - Mr. Geiser did engage in crimes against humanity,' Siegal said.
Roe took exception to the portrayal of Geiser as a war criminal. Geiser says he was forced to join the SS in 1942, and that he never killed anyone, though tens of thousands are believed to have died at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen.
Tragic times: Soldiers of the Third Reich arrest factory leaders
Concentration bunks: Wooden bunks stand inside a children's barracks, Compound BII13, at Birkenau, part of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp and extermination camp in operation during World War II
Geiser does not dispute that the Nazi camps were horrific, and he previously told prosecutors he was ashamed of his service.
'I was not proud where I served and I didn't like it then and I didn't like it now,' he said.
Roe argued that a 2009 Supreme Court decision requires immigration judges to consider whether an alleged perpetrator of persecution was doing so voluntarily.
More broadly, he said U.S. law in nearly all aspects takes into account whether a person was forced to act against his will, and he said the same principles should be extended to Geiser's case.
The three members of the Board that heard the case - two appointed by Republicans, one by a Democrat - are expected to issue their ruling in a few months.
While it is the highest immigration
court, it is an administrative body and its rulings are subject to
review by federal judges and the Supreme Court.
It is expected that the board's ruling will be appealed by the losing side.
Tucked away: Geiser has been living in the small western Pennsylvania town Sharon for more than 50 years
The Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald
camps held some political and military prisoners, but tens of thousands
of people also died there under horrific conditions, such as starvation,
slave labor, medical experiments, and executions.
Black, the senior historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum, said that it's ‘very difficult’ to tell whether any particular
individual actually volunteered for the SS, or was pressured to join.
But he said the guards were essential to the concentration camp system.
if they don't have any contact with a prisoner, by walking the
perimeter as an armed guard, they are helping to keep the people inside
that place where they are enduring persecution,’ Black said, adding that
SS guards were paid, got leave time, and health benefits for their
Most of the hearing, though, dealt not
with Geiser's actions during the war but on narrow questions of legal