Ex-Nazi guard fights deportation

March 3, 2008 6:58:16 PM PST
A retired steelworker who served as a Nazi concentration camp guard should not be deported because the State Department - rightly or wrongly - granted him a visa in 1956, his lawyer argued Monday. Anton Geiser, 83, of Sharon did not cite his Nazi ties on his visa application, but neither is he accused of lying about the matter. Geiser's investigative file from the period is lost, so it is not clear whether the person who would have interviewed him for the visa knew he had been a guard.

Geiser's attorney, Adrian N. Roe, said guards not characterized as war criminals were sometimes allowed into the country.

"The government is rethinking the wisdom of that policy decided by the State Department 50 years ago," Roe argued before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

For the last three decades, the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigation has been pursuing naturalized citizens with alleged Nazi ties. Officials said the office has prevailed in 107 cases and 65 people have been deported as a result.

Roe argued that Geiser's case is somewhat different than most because he came to the U.S. through the Refugee Relief Act, which was in effect for just three years. The language of that law is ambiguous, he said.

The law barred visas for anyone "who personally advocated or assisted in the persecution of any person or group of persons because of race, religion or national origin." Roe said that does not necessarily ban camp guards who were not deemed war criminals.

"If you don't have guards around the camp, everyone might walk out and go home," Judge Jane R. Roth quipped.

Justice Department lawyer Christina P. Giffin argued that the approval of Geiser's visa was "a mistake" that should be corrected, however belatedly. She added that there is no evidence that Congress intended to limit the Refugee Relief Act's visa ban to war criminals.

Geiser, an ethnic German born in what is now Croatia, served as an armed SS Death's Head guard at Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. He then was transferred to an SS officer training camp at Arolsen, where he escorted prisoners to and from the Buchenwald camp, where tens of thousands of Jews and others were exterminated. Geiser was at Arolsen until April 1945.

He went to Austria in 1948 and came to the United States in 1956. He was granted citizenship in 1962.

Geiser has lived in Sharon, about 60 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, since June 1960. He and his wife have three sons. He retired in 1987 after 31 years at Sharon Steel.

The three-judge panel took the case under advisement and did not indicate when it would rule.