Judge Revokes Citizenship of Ex-Nazi

A federal judge Friday revoked the U.S. citizenship of a Romanian-born former member of the Nazi SS accused of serving as a concentration camp guard.

The government accused Joseph Wittje (search), 84, of Bensenville of hiding his membership in an SS Death's Head battalion that guarded Sachsenhausen, a camp near Berlin where thousands were executed or died from starvation, disease and medical experiments.

The government contended that because the Nazi Waffen SS (search) was a movement hostile to the United States, Wittje was not lawfully admitted to this country when he was granted citizenship in August 1959.

Judge Suzanne Conlon canceled Wittje's certificate of naturalization and ordered him to turn it over to the attorney general. The government filed its complaint seeking to revoke his citizenship last September.

Wittje declined to comment, referring questions to his attorney, Joseph T. McGinness (search) of Cleveland. Calls to McGinness' number were not answered.

In previous hearings, McGinness said his client was stationed near Sachsenhausen and did belong to an SS Death's Head battalion, but was never a guard. He has said Wittje was a bricklayer who spent much of his time working on construction of air raid shelters and in a military sports program.

The government said Wittje served in the Romanian Army from February 1942 until July 1943, and was a member of the Waffen SS from July 1943 until the spring of 1945. It said the Waffen SS was a Nazi party organization that included combat and guard units in concentration camps.

In his 1950 immigration papers, Wittje failed to disclose his membership in the Waffen SS, which in 1946 was classified by an international military tribunal as a criminal organization, the Justice Department complaint said.

"Like other former Nazis in the U.S., he came to these shores during the Cold War and left out that part of his life," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. "They volunteered to be a part of the Nazi killing machine."

U.S. immigration laws were amended in 1978 to allow deportation of anyone who assisted or participated in Nazi acts of persecution.

Since 1979, the Justice Department has had an office dedicated to investigating cases of former Nazis living in the United States and has won cases against more than 90 people.