Finally In Custody
Nazi guard Johann Leprich's past catches up with him after 16-year search.
George Vine of West Bloomfield spent only a few
knowledge of John on the present and not his
in Mauthausen, but the experience left indeli-
Alex Kuhn, a Holocaust survivor from
On Jan. 19, 1945, the Nazis began liquidating
Southfield, is incredulous.
t took police and special investigators 40
concentration camps around Auschwitz (in
minutes to search the house on the tree-lined
Poland), where Vine was held captive. During the
street in Clinton Township.
march to evade the Allies, he spent time in about
He gave no resistance as federal agents and
eight other camps before being liberated, but
local police from Macomb County and Clinton
"Mauthausen was likely one of
1944, hauling rocks up 185 steps
Township found Johann Leprich, 78, the Nazi
the worst camps that I experi-
in a stone quarry.
Germany death camp guard hidden in a secret
enced," he said. "Although
compartment beneath the stairs on July 1.
Auschwitz was a terrible camp,
"There was a great deal of various surveillance
when you got to 1945, after they
tunnels and underground factories
and law enforcement investigative effort that pre-
killed all the Hungarian Jews,
ceded this," said Eli Rosenbaum, director of the
they shut off the gas chambers
know for a fact that Leprich was a
U.S. Department of Justice Office of Special
and there was almost a feeling
murderer, but it was part of the
that maybe we'll make it.
job to make people's lives miser-
"There was a hiding place under the staircase for
"Going into Mauthausen at that
him, the irony of that is not lost on us, of course,"
late a date, the most clearest vision
he said, referring to the many Jews rousted from
that I have in front of my eyes was
Immigration Court in Detroit by
hiding places and led to their deaths by the Nazis.
to see the guards beating up peo-
In 1987, U.S. District Judge Barbara Hackett
ple and hanging them in almost a
Homeland Security states that
stripped Leprich of his citizenship. He had admit-
daily affair. I thought that I had
Leprich should be deported based
ted he was a member of the SS Death's Head
seen everything, but this was
on his service as an armed SS
Battalion at the German-run Mauthausen concen-
beyond any comprehension."
tration camp in Austria from 1943 to 1945. He
About 119,000 prisoners died
lied about his past when he entered the United
there. Vine described the typical
States in 1952, and became naturalized in 1958.
armed guard at Mauthausen as "a
failed to comply with a statute
Before the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Leprich was foun d in a hiding
vicious beast who gets his greatest
requiring that aliens residing in
Service could deport him, Leprich fled to Canada.
place under a sta ircase in his house. pleasure probably out of seeing
the United States report their
In 1997, Leprich was featured on America's Most
people suffer or in pain."
address to federal authorities.
Wanted, and tips led investigators to learn he was
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said, "This
making regular trips across the U.S.-Canada border
arrest makes clear that those who participated in the
now, but it's very satisfying to have him in cus-
to visit his wife.
atrocities of the Holocaust will not escape the deter-
But he was not living openly, Rosenbaum insist-
mined reach of U.S. law enforcement, regardless of
how much time has passed. Nazi collaborators will
States back to Europe. He will not be going back
"If he was living openly, they wouldn't have had
not find a safe haven in the United States."
a hiding place for
Although there is no safe haven for Leprich here,
him and he would
there is no guarantee of what happens to him once
have been easy for
he is deported to Europe, said Rosenbaum.
stripped of U.S. citi-
the U.S. government
"Europe long ago abdicated its moral and legal
to find," he said.
responsibilities in these cases, for the most part,
"This was, in fact, a
despite intense prodding by the U.S. government,"
the United States
he said. "Only very rarely have European govern-
since OSI began
tigative effort and
ments prosecuted any deported OSI defendants. It's
the lion's share of
another one of the many frustrations of this work."
this goes to the
Vine is frustrated, too.
who operated in a
"I have no hate in my heart, but all those guilty
ones, who got away until this very date, if there's
and the FBI."
any few years left in their lives, they should be
this very day the
Though no one is
locked up," he said. "We can't be bestial like the
most heinous crime in human history, yet he
sure, speculation is that Leprich used an assumed
Germans were, but we could have a law abiding
enjoyed the tremendous freedom in the United
name to move between the home he shared with
process and lock them up for life. It would be really
his wife and two children and Canada. When
sad that this man would live the rest of his life in
home, he was said by neighbors to be friendly,
often sharing vegetables from the garden he tend-
For more on Leprich's life, go to
and the description they gave of it is beyond com-
The Detroit News reported that he even told
for a link
some neighbors about his past as a Nazi concentra-
to coverage in the Detroit News.
he didn't know what's going on is mind-boggling."
tion guard, and one said, "Everybody based their
HARRY KI RS BAUM