The Justice Department began efforts Tuesday to strip U.S. citizenship from three men--including one Northern California resident--it said belonged to a Nazi SS battalion that tortured and killed tens of thousands of Jews and other inmates at an Austrian concentration camp during World War II.
The three naturalized citizens concealed their wartime activities as members in the SS Death’s Head Battalion when seeking to enter the United States and illegally procured U.S. citizenship, said Neal M. Sher, director of the department’s Office of Special Investigations.
Sher’s office identified the three men as Josef Wieland of Burlingame, Calif.; Stefan Leili of Clifton, N.J.; and Martin Bartesch of Chicago. The court papers were filed in San Francisco, Newark, and Chicago.
Stripping the three men of citizenship would be a step toward deportation, a lengthy procedure in which the department must detail the evidence it has gathered against the three.
The Death’s Head contingent at the Mauthausen concentration camp system used forced labor and tortured and executed tens of thousands of Jews, Poles, Soviets and Czechs, the department said.
“There have been indications that even American prisoners of war perished there,” Sher said in an interview. He did not provide details, but added that British POWs also were housed in portions of the concentration camp system.
The battalion to which the three allegedly belonged was “responsible for the running of the camp and on a daily basis engaged in murders and acts of persecution,” Sher added.
According to documents filed with the courts:
- Wieland, 77, is a native of Kolut, Yugoslavia, who immigrated to the United States in 1952 and became an American citizen in 1958.
- Leili, 76, is a native of Scheindorf, Romania, and served as an armed guard at Mauthausen from December, 1943, to July, 1944. He came to the United States in 1956 and became an American citizen in 1962.
- Bartesch, 59, is a native of Grossau, Hermannstadt, Romania, and served as an SS guard from October, 1943, to July, 1944. He immigrated to the United States in 1955 and became an American citizen in 1966. According to the court papers, Bartesch told U.S. immigration officials when he entered the country that he had spent the time from July, 1943, to May, 1945, with an SS division, mostly as a soldier in Yugoslavia. Bartesch’s wife, reached at the couple’s home, declined to comment on the Justice Department allegations.