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July 11, 2003 - Image 14

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-07-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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
days
in Mauthausen, but the experience left indeli-
past."
ble
marks.
Alex Kuhn, a Holocaust survivor from
On Jan. 19, 1945, the Nazis began liquidating
Southfield, is incredulous.
t took police and special investigators 40
the
concentration camps around Auschwitz (in
"Everybody
knew
about
this
guy,"
he
said.
minutes to search the house on the tree-lined
Poland), where Vine was held captive. During the
"What
took
them
all
this
time
to
catch
up
to
street in Clinton Township.
march to evade the Allies, he spent time in about
him?"
He gave no resistance as federal agents and
eight other camps before being liberated, but
Kuhn
was
in
Mauthausen
for
four
months
in
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
"We
made
eight
trips
a
day
into
compartment beneath the stairs on July 1.
Auschwitz was a terrible camp,
the
quarry,
excavating
to
build
"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,
for
the
Germans,"
he
said.
"I
don't
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
Investigations.
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
able."
him, the irony of that is not lost on us, of course,"
late a date, the most clearest vision
A
document
filed
July
2
in
U.S.
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-
OSI
and
the
Department
of
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."
guard
at
Mauthausen.
The
docu-
tration camp in Austria from 1943 to 1945. He
About 119,000 prisoners died
ment
also
alleges
that
Leprich
is
lied about his past when he entered the United
there. Vine described the typical
subject
to
deportation
because
he
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
"We
have
a
deportation
case
that
we
have
to
do
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-
tody,"
Rosenbaum
said.
"We
plan
to
move
expedi-
But he was not living openly, Rosenbaum insist-
mined reach of U.S. law enforcement, regardless of
tiously
to
accomplish
his
removal
from
the
United
ed.
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."
to Canada."
a hiding place for
Although there is no safe haven for Leprich here,
To
date,
71
Nazi
him and he would
there is no guarantee of what happens to him once
persecutors
have
been
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
zenship
and
57
have
to find," he said.
responsibilities in these cases, for the most part,
been
removed
from
"This was, in fact, a
despite intense prodding by the U.S. government,"
the United States
remarkable inves-
he said. "Only very rarely have European govern-
since OSI began
tigative effort and
ments prosecuted any deported OSI defendants. It's
operations
in
1979.
the lion's share of
another one of the many frustrations of this work."
"Here
is
a
man
this goes to the
Vine is frustrated, too.
who operated in a
Department of
"I have no hate in my heart, but all those guilty
concentration
camp,
Vine
ig
Rosenzve
Rosenbaum
Homeland Security
ones, who got away until this very date, if there's
which
represents
to
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
States,"
said
Rabbi
Charles
Rosenzveig,
founder
his wife and two children and Canada. When
sad that this man would live the rest of his life in
and
executive
director
of
the
Holocaust
Memorial
home, he was said by neighbors to be friendly,
peace." ❑
Center
in
West
Bloomfield.
often sharing vegetables from the garden he tend-
"We
know
survivors
and
liberators
of
Mauthausen
ed.
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
www.detroitjewishnews.com
prehension,
yet
for
that
same
person
to
claim
that
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
StaffWriter

I

7111
2003

14

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