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Archive/File: holocaust schiffer.nikol
Last-Modified: 1993/08/26

Schiffer, Nikolaus

American stripped of citizenship for being Nazi guard

Washington, aug. 26 (nca) - the following article By Katharine
Seelye appears today in the Knight-Ridder Newspapers:
    An American-born citizen was stripped of his U.S. citizenship
Wednesday for serving as a guard in three Nazi death camps, and was
ordered to leave the country in 60 days.
    It was believed to be the first time a U.S. citizen has been
ordered deported for Nazi activities during World War II. While 46
people have been denaturalized for aiding Hitler's extermination
machine, they were all born in other countries.
    Nikolaus Schiffer, 74, a retired baker born in Philadelphia and
now living in New Ringgold, Pa., was not charged with any specific
crimes in connection with his participation 50 years ago in the Waffen
SS, the elite branch of the German army known for its racial purity
and loyalty to Hitler.
    But after hearing testimony in March in the non-jury trial in
Easton, Pa., including the testimony of concentration camp survivors,
U.S. District Judge Franklin S. Van Antwerpen ruled Wednesday that
Schiffer had lost his U.S. citizenship when he joined the Romanian
Army and the SS and pledged allegiance to Hitler. He subsequently
regained it illegally, the judge ruled.
    Schiffer went to Romania as a child and grew up there. The Justice
Department had contended that he joined the Romanian Army when that
nation was allied with Nazi Germany. In July 1943, the Justice
Department said, he joined the Waffen SS.
    The judge ruled that after the war, Schiffer illegally got his
U.S. citizenship back by concealing his past and not telling U.S.
officials that he had been arrested as a war crimes suspect. An arrest
would have automatically barred him from becoming a U.S. citizen.
    Schiffer maintained throughout the case that he had done nothing
    The judge found that absurd.
    "We find much of Schiffer's testimony unbelievable," he wrote in a
highly technical 82-page decision that details the Nazi atrocities.
"... On crucial issues, his testimony was unsupported and completely
    In a footnote, the judge added: "We note that in general, the
testimony of former concentration camp guards is notoriously
unreliable. Former camp guards facing denaturalization frequently
claim to have served involuntarily, to have been stationed only on the
camp periphery, to have been unaware of any mistreatment or punishment
of prisoners, to have seen nothing and heard nothing."
    For example, the judge said, Schiffer was not at Trawniki, Poland,
in November 1943 when the Nazis massacred 6,000 Jews. But he was
stationed there two months later when Jewish prisoners were ordered to
dig up the bodies and burn them. When Schiffer arrived, said the
judge, they were still busy burning the bodies, but Schiffer never saw
anything or smelled anything or heard anything.
    Schiffer's attorney, William E. Jones of Abington, Pa., said he
expected to appeal the ruling.
    "While the judge refers to the adverse history in the camps," said
Jones, "there's no link whatsoever to Schiffer. The concept of guilt
by association shouldn't be sufficient to deprive a man of his
citizenship. Schiffer was not a policymaker. He was the lowest-level
military officer. No one would dare suggest he had the capacity to
control what was going on, either in his assignments or in the Second
World War. He was a pawn."
    Jones further contended that Schiffer was unaware that he actually
had been arrested. After the war, he was held as a prisoner of war and
was subsequently turned over to the German government, Jones said, buthis case
 fell through the cracks.
    Schiffer was not officially informed that he was under arrest,
Jones said, so he wasn't lying on his application for citizenship when
he said he had never been arrested. "It was a paperwork change," Jones
Schiffer is to surrender his naturalization papers in 60 days,
when the government could initiate deportation proceedings against
    Jones said it was possible, however, that the Immigration and
Naturalization Service could find Schiffer's conduct sufficient for
denaturalization "but not enough to kick him out of the country, in
which case he could stay as a permanent resident. The biggest concern
is that there are no other countries that will come forward and offer
him a place to live. Germany has a pretty difficult public relations
problem if they allow these people to come back."
    Jones said individuals like Schiffer were being held accountable
"to satisfy some sense of retribution that political interests have."
He identified those interests as "all the Holocaust survivor groups
and not just Jewish organizations, although they are the primary
proponents of these type of prosecutions."
    The case was brought by the Justice Department's Office of Special
Investigations (OSI), which was set up in 1979 to prosecute suspected
    Eli Rosenbaum, deputy director of OSI, said it didn't matter that
Schiffer hadn't been found guilty of a specific crime.
    "The guards were all part of a conspiracy to persecute and kill
large numbers of civilians. The Supreme Court has said that anyone who
was an armed guard at a Nazi concentration camp was per se a
participant in Nazi-sponsored acts of persecution.
    "Despite the passage of time," he said, "justice can still be
    Charles W. Sydnor, a historian of the Nazi period and a frequent
witness for the OSI, said the ruling was important "because if the
concept of American citizenship and the ethical basis of justice is to
have any meaning, it's important to follow through on these cases even
decades after the fact.
    "No inmate - whether Jew or Gypsy or Catholic priest or homosexual
or political dissenter, none of those people in concentration camps -
had any legal recourse at all to anything and received none from the
guards who watched over them."

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