Wash. man denies role in Nazi crimes

Thursday, September 18, 2008

SEATTLE -- The attorney for an 86-year-old suburban Seattle man accused of being part of a Nazi death squad in World War II has asked a federal judge to throw out the government's attempt to revoke his U.S. citizenship.

Robert Gibbs said in a court filing this week that his client, Peter Egner, denies any involvement in wartime mistreatment and is being accused of atrocities committed by others.

The Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations filed a lawsuit against Egner in July alleging that he lied in 1965 on immigration documents and did not elaborate on his wartime experience.

The Bellevue man is accused of being a guard and interpreter for a Nazi squad that killed thousand of Jews, Gypsies and political dissidents in Belgrade, in what now is Serbia. The OSI identified Egner's participation through Nazi documents, the complaint says.

Court documents allege Egner worked for the Nazi-run Security Police and Security Service in what was then Yugoslavia from 1941 through the fall of 1943, when he was wounded.

The documents say the police unit operated as the Belgrade Einsatzgruppe, a special mobile death unit undertaking early efforts to systematically murder Jews as part of Hitler's "final solution."

The SPSS "played a leading role" in the gassings of more than 6,200 Jewish women and children at the Semlin concentration camp near Belgrade, according to OSI officials.

Most of the prisoners were killed in specially disguised trucks rigged to pump exhaust fumes into an enclosed compartment. People would be loaded into the trucks, ostensibly to be taken to another camp, and then driven around until they died.

Gibbs, Egner's attorney, said his client served on a low level in the security police but denies participating in any persecution.

Gibbs points out that the complaint never alleges that Egner participated in any SPSS atrocities. Moreover, immigration law in effect in 1966, when Egner won his citizenship, would not necessarily have barred him from becoming a citizen even if he had disclosed his SPSS membership, Gibbs said.

The government, Gibbs argues, has an extraordinarily high burden of proof in trying to strip someone of citizenship and must meet it with "clear, unequivocal and convincing" evidence.

Instead, he says, the complaint "includes only conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted interferences of fact."

A hearing will be held next month on the case.

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