Expelled Nazis paid millions in Social Security by U.S.

Associated Press

Osijek, Croatia – — Former Auschwitz guard Jakob Denzinger lived the American dream.

His plastics company in the Rust Belt town of Akron, Ohio, thrived. He acquired the trappings of success: luxury cars, a lakefront home, investments in oil and real estate. Then the Nazi hunters showed up.

In 1989, as the U.S. government prepared to strip him of his citizenship, Denzinger fled to Germany. He later settled in this town on the Drava River, where he collects about $1,500 in Social Security each month, nearly twice the take-home pay of an average Croatian worker.

Denzinger, 90, is among dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals and SS guards who collected millions of dollars in Social Security payments after being forced out of the United States, an AP investigation found.

The payments flowed through a legal loophole that gave the U.S. Justice Department leverage to persuade Nazi suspects to leave the U.S. If they agreed to go, or simply fled before deportation, they could keep their Social Security, according to interviews and internal U.S. government records.

Among those receiving benefits were armed SS troops who guarded the network of Nazi camps where millions of Jews perished; a rocket scientist who used slave laborers to advance his research in the Third Reich; and a Nazi collaborator who engineered the arrest and execution of thousands of Jews in Poland.

Jakob Denzinger, 90, already has a grave prepared in Croatia, where he lives after fleeing the U.S. in 1989. He still collects Social Security.

There are at least four living beneficiaries. They include Denzinger and Martin Hartmann, a former SS guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Germany.

Hartmann moved to Berlin in 2007 from Arizona just before being stripped of his U.S. citizenship. Denzinger now lives in Croatia. He would not discuss his situation when questioned by an AP reporter; Denzinger's son, who lives in the U.S., confirmed his father receives Social Security payments and said he deserved them.

The deals allowed the Justice Department's former Nazi-hunting unit, the Office of Special Investigations, to skirt lengthy deportation hearings and increased the number of Nazis it expelled from the U.S.

But internal U.S. government records obtained by the AP reveal heated objections from the State Department to OSI's practices. Social Security benefits became tools, U.S. diplomatic officials said, to secure agreements in which Nazi suspects would accept the loss of citizenship and voluntarily leave the United States.

"It's absolutely outrageous that Nazi war criminals are continuing to receive Social Security benefits when they have been outlawed from our country for many, many, many years," said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, a senior Democratic member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

She said she plans to introduce legislation to close the loophole.

Move angers foreign capitals

Since 1979, the AP analysis found, at least 38 of 66 suspects removed from the country kept their Social Security benefits.

The Social Security Administration expressed outrage in 1997 over the use of benefits, the documents show, and blowback in foreign capitals reverberated at the highest levels of government.

Austrian authorities were furious upon learning after the fact about a deal made with Martin Bartesch, a former SS guard at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

In 1987, Bartesch landed, unannounced, at the airport in Vienna. Two days later, under the terms of the deal, his U.S. citizenship was revoked.

The Romanian-born Bartesch, who had emigrated to the U.S. in 1955, was suddenly stateless and Austria's problem. Bartesch continued to receive Social Security benefits until he died in 1989.

"It was not upfront, it was not transparent, it was not a legitimate process," said James Hergen, an assistant legal adviser at the State Department from 1982 until 2007. "This was not the way America should behave. We should not be dumping our refuse, for lack of a better word, on friendly states."

Neal Sher, a former OSI director, said the State Department cared more about diplomatic niceties than holding former members of Adolf Hitler's war machine accountable.

Benefits loophole not closed

Amid the objections, the practice known as "Nazi dumping" stopped. But the benefits loophole wasn't closed.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said in an emailed statement that Social Security payments never were employed to persuade Nazi suspects to depart voluntarily.

The Social Security Administration refused the AP's request for the total number of Nazi suspects who received benefits and the dollar amounts of those payments.

Spokesman William "BJ" Jarrett said the agency does not track data specific to Nazi cases.

A further barrier, Jarrett said, is that there is no exception in U.S. privacy law that "allows us to disclose information because the individual is a Nazi war criminal or an accused Nazi war criminal."

The department also declined to make the acting commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, or another senior agency official available for an interview.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said the loophole should be closed.

"Someone receiving an American pension could live very well in Europe or wherever they settled," Hier said. "We, in effect, were rewarding them. It didn't make any sense."

Where are they now?

Brief profiles of suspected Nazi war criminals and SS guards forced out of the United States but collecting Social Security:

Martin Hartmann

Hartmann is one of the most recent suspects to leave the U.S.

He volunteered for the SS in 1943 and was assigned to one of the Death's Head battalions. Those were the units that ran the Third Reich's system of death and concentration camps.

He was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 2007 after reaching an agreement with the Justice Department. In the agreement, he admitted to his Nazi past even though records obtained by the AP showed he disclosed his SS service to American authorities before he entered the United States.

Hartmann, 95, lives in Berlin.

Jakob Denzinger

In 1942, at age 18, Denzinger began serving in a Death's Head unit. He was posted at several camps, including the Auschwitz death camp complex in occupied Poland.

He settled in Ohio after the war and became a successful plastics industry executive. Years later, the Justice Department uncovered his past. In 1989, as U.S. prosecutors prepared their case to strip Denzinger of his citizenship, he fled to Germany. He later moved to Croatia.

Denzinger, 90, refused to discuss his past with an AP reporter.

Wasyl Lytwyn

Lytwyn served in a Nazi SS unit that took part in the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 — an assault that killed as many as 13,000 Jews.

But when he immigrated to the U.S. in 1957, he denied any affiliation with the SS. He found work as a shipping clerk in Chicago. Lytwyn agreed to leave the United States in 1995 after he admitted that he concealed his SS service.

Lytwyn, 93, is believed to living in Ukraine.

Peter Mueller

Peter Mueller was born in Yugoslavia but his service as a Nazi SS guard won him German citizenship.

Mueller immigrated to the U.S. in 1956 and settled in Skokie, Illinois. Then the Justice Department caught up with him. Mueller admitted he served as an SS guard in the Natzweiller concentration camp in France.

He voluntarily returned to Germany 1994. Mueller, 90, lives in a nursing home in Worms, Germany, according to family members.