KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An East Tennessee man who worked as a concentration camp guard in the waning months of World War II in Nazi Germany has been ordered to leave the United States.
After a two-day trial in Memphis, U.S. Immigration Judge Rebecca L. Holt ordered Friedrich K. Berger be removed, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Holt found Berger willingly served "as an armed guard of prisoners at a concentration camp where persecution took place," according to the DOJ.
Hugh Ward, Berger's Knoxville attorney, declined to say where Berger lives.
"We're reviewing the judge's ruling and considering appealing," Ward told WBIR on Thursday.
A former assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Ward said Berger as a young man was ordered in the closing months of the war by his superiors in the German Navy to perform guard duty -- and he complied.
The now elderly Berger has been a longtime, law-abiding Tennessee citizen who has never been accused of war crimes, Ward said.
DOJ referred 10News to Ward for questions about Berger. He's a German citizen who draws a German pension, according to the government.
Berger was assigned to be an armed guard in early 1945 at a subcamp of the Neuengamme camp system near Meppen, Germany. Most of the prisoners were Russian, Dutch and Polish; those being held included Jews and "political opponents" of the Nazis.
Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler operated a system of concentration camps to hold and in some cases exterminate millions of prisoners, including Eastern European Jews, during the war.
The Meppen camps were in northwest Germany near the Dutch line.
Meppen prisoners during the winter of 1945 were held in "atrocious" conditions, the judge found, exploited to be outdoor forced labor and often working until they died. Thousands of prisoners died in the camp system.
According to the DOJ, Holt found and Bergen admitted "that he guarded prisoners to prevent them from escaping during their dawn-to-dusk workday, and on their way to the worksites and also on their way back to the subcamp in the evening."
With the Allies advancing, the Nazis decided to leave Meppen in late March 1945.
According to the DOJ, "(Holt) found that Berger helped guard the prisoners during their forcible evacuation to the Neuengamme main camp -- a nearly two-week trip under inhumane conditions, which claimed the lives of some 70 prisoners."
The prisoners were forced to march to another camp near Hamburg.
The DOJ notes Holt's ruling "also cited Berger's admission that he never requested a transfer from the concentration camp guard service and that he continues to receive a pension from Germany based on his employment in Germany, 'including his wartime service.'"
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian A. Benczkowski of the DOJ's Criminal Division called Berger "part of the SS machinery of oppression that kept concentration camp prisoners in atrocious conditions of confinement."
DOJ started a program about 40 years ago to find and remove "Nazi persecutors."
The case was investigated by DOJ attorneys in partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center and the Homeland Security Investigations's Nashville office.
ICE also issued a release about the Bergen case.