October, 06 2007

Other than German accents, the only thing that made Paul and Else Henss stand out in their neighborhood near Lawrenceville was the yard. It's immaculate, down to the sculpted topiaries out front.

When the elderly couple finished lunch at the Golden Corral and drove back to that greener-than-green lawn around 2 p.m. Monday, however, they encountered a phalanx of TV trucks and reporters wrapped around the cul-de-sac. The world was about to know Paul Henss for cultivating something else: a secret the government says he held for more than half a century.

The U.S. government had announced hours earlier that Paul Henss trained attack dogs at two concentration camps as a member of the dreaded SS during World War II in Nazi Germany. Authorities said they plan to deport Henss, but no court date has been set.

White-haired and using a cane, the 85-year-old limped out of his Cadillac DeVille and appeared bewildered by the sudden attention.v

"I was 19 years old," Henss told reporters gathered in his garage. "Everybody was with the Hitler Youth."

The government says Henss, a German citizen who arrived in the United States in 1955, trained dogs to attack people who tried to escape from the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps.

On Monday afternoon, there in his garage, Henss said, yes, he did teach guards at both camps how to use the German Shepherds and Rottweilers. But he said that he didn't realize what was going on in the camps and that he had joined an elite SS combat unit primarily to fight on the front lines in World War II.

"I didn't know what they were doing with the people," he said, speaking over the occasional wailings of his wife. "I am not a war criminal."

In court documents, the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations alleges that Henss joined the Hitler Youth organization in 1934 and the Nazi Party in September 1940.

He served at the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps at various times between 1942 and late 1944, the government alleges, specializing in guard dogs who were trained to "bite without mercy" and "literally tear prisoners to pieces if they tried to escape."

Henss, whose only daughter lives in the Atlanta area, moved here a decade ago from Milwaukee, where he worked in a meatpacking plant. He conceded Monday that he didn't list his service in the SS upon arrival in the United States.

"I forgot about the war," he said. "I want to leave the war behind me."

The Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations has not forgotten.

Since 1979, it has removed or stripped of U.S. citizenship 106 participants in Nazi crimes. But the case against Henss is the first case in Georgia that the office has handled, said Jaclyn Lesch, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

Eli M. Rosenbaum, director of the Office of Special Investigations, said in a statement that "the SS committed mass murder at Dachau and Buchenwald and subjected thousands of inmates to slave labor, starvation, grotesque medical experimentation, and torture.

"The brutal concentration camp system could not have functioned without the determined efforts of SS men such as Paul Henss, who, with a vicious attack dog, stood between these victims and the possibility of freedom."

In an interview, Rosenbaum declined to divulge details of what led investigators to Henss. He did say, though, that the department's Nazi-era investigations typically involve a team of staff historians poring over World War II documents, then matching names of suspected guards to immigration records.

Simply having served in the German Army during World War II is not enough to trigger deportation proceedings against German citizens living in the United States, Rosenbaum said. Nor is having been a member of the Waffen SS, as investigators allege Henss was. But Congress has barred former Nazis implicated in atrocities, such as people who served as concentration camp guards, Rosenbaum said.

The government alleges that Henss concealed his work as a concentration camp guard when he entered the United States in 1955; that allegation forms the basis for the government's attempt to deport him.

Henss' immigration attorney, Douglas Weigle of Cincinnati, has handled similar cases in the past. He said he has only spoken to Henss by phone and hasn't had a chance to delve into his client's case.

"The Office of Special Investigations has its spin on how it interprets things, and I'm sure the family version is a little different," he said.

News of the case raced through Henss' neighborhood near Lawrenceville - and along a grapevine of Holocaust survivors. It dredged awful memories for people such as 75-year-old Ben Hirsch of Atlanta, a board member of the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta whose parents and two of six siblings died in Auschwitz.

"I would say that he made some terrible choices in his life and did some terrible things and I feel sorry for him," he said. "But I don't want to hear anything he's got to say. I'm not looking for excuses. I don't want to hear that kind of stuff. He made his bed. Let him sleep in it."

The news struck a personal note for Karen Lansky Edlin, a 48-year-old Atlanta woman. Her parents, Lola and Rubin Lansky, survived their time in the very two concentration camps where the authorities say Henss worked as a guard from October 1942 to late 1944.

"All those people are gone, and it can';t bring them back," she said. "But I think for the fact that at any point, if they're found and brought to justice, it would be a positive thing."

- Staff writer Ken Sugiura contributed to this report.


When the U.S. government learns a Nazi war criminal may be living in the United States, the Office of Special Investigations of the Department of Justice looks into the allegations. Here is a quick look at five cases the government has followed in recent years:

Martin Hartmann: Hartmann, formerly of Mesa, Ariz., had his U.S. citizenship revoked after he was accused last month of serving in the SS Death's Head Guard Battalion at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Hartmann left the United States for Germany and is permanently barred from returning.

John Demjanjuk: In 1977, the Justice Department began proceedings to revoke Demjanjuk's citizenship amid allegations he was a horrific Nazi death camp guard known as "Ivan the Terrible." In 1986, the retired auto-worker from Cleveland, Ohio, was extradited to Israel, where he was sentenced to death for war crimes. He appealed to Israel's Supreme Court and in 1993, he returned to the United States, where he waits for a decision on his final appeal.

Elfriede Lina Rinkel: Rinkel lived in San Francisco for almost 50 years with her husband, a German Jew and a Holocaust survivor who died in 2004 without learning of his wife's past. Rinkel, the government said, used attack dogs to march prisoners to work sites while serving as a Nazi guard at Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women. Last year, Rinkel agreed to return to Germany. Jakob "Jack" Reimer: Reimer, a retired New York City-area businessman living in Fort Lee, N.J., was deported after the government accused him of, among other things, accompanying Jews in cattle cars to death camps, such as Auschwitz. His citizenship had been revoked, and the U.S. planned to deport him to Germany, but he died in 2005.

Michael Gruber: Gruber was accused of serving as an armed SS guard at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Oranienburg, Germany. The retired auto mechanic, who lived in New York, returned to Austria in 2002 after his deportation order.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice - Compiled by Joni Zeccola

Credit : Feds: Lawrenceville man trained attack dogs at two Nazi concentration camps in World War II Germany

By Brian Feagans, George Chidi The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 10/02/07

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