Thursday, September 03, 2009

Yet Another Nazi in Michigan Lives The Good Life, Eludes Justice

Sometimes you wonder why the Feds would let a multiple murderer roam free.

Indeed, One SS death camp guard has been in plain sight all this time:

The Detroit News: LeDuff: Ex-death camp guard avoids deportation
Clinton Township -- The Nazi keeps a nice yard.

The home of Johann Leprich -- a death camp guard at the notorious Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria where 120,000 people were murdered during World War II -- has geraniums, a tomato patch and a manicured blanket of grass the color of emeralds. Adding to the incongruity are two ceramic deer prone beneath a blue spruce tree and a statuette of a cotton-tail bunny.

Leprich has long been ordered deported from the United States for lying about his past, but he managed to avoid it due to loopholes in the law. Now, after decades of legal limbo, there may be a country willing to take him and try him for war crimes.

But a knock at Leprich's door last week revealed no one. Could it be that the Nazi has again disappeared down a rabbit hole?

Leprich, 84, illegally entered the United States in 1952 and was awarded citizenship in 1958. The blue-eyed, silver-haired Romanian-German lived the good life, buying a tidy ranch house on Capper Drive for $10,000 in 1976 and making a living as a tool-and-die man.

Eventually, the law caught up to him. In 1987, a Detroit immigration judge stripped him of his citizenship for lying about his death camp service on his immigration application.

Inexplicably, Leprich was released pending a deportation hearing. Predictably, he ran.

The feds did not pursue Leprich -- choosing to believe his wife and neighbors who said he had fled to Windsor. But if Leprich did indeed go to Canada, he did not go for long. His neighbors said they saw him taking walks under the cover of darkness over the years. He renewed his driver's license in person. His Social Security check was sent to his Clinton Township home. He even told his neighbors he was a Nazi.

"I knew he was in the SS and worked at a camp," said Ike Sonntag, who lives directly across Capper Drive. "But why go after him now? To me it's a big fat waste of money because I think the guy's going to die."

Leprich would have lived out his days in peace, if he had not been hounded by Steve Rambam, one of the world's great Nazi hunters, and his associate, Bob Kowalkowski, who had been hired by a group of New York businessmen to find Leprich. The gumshoes tracked the Nazi to his house in 1997.

Still, it took six more years for the feds to come get Leprich. Federal agents found him cowering in a secret compartment beneath his stairs. He was arrested and the authorities waited three years for Germany or Hungary or Romania to accept him. After those countries refused to take him, the American government released Leprich in 2006 and removed his electronic tracking bracelet a year later.

The Department of Justice issued this terse statement: "We continue to seek his removal to another country," said Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman.

. . .

So Rambam returned to Clinton Township to knock on the Nazi's door.

No answer.

Rambam tried the neighbor. She answered, wary like a hen in a strange barn. She would not open the screen.

The detective inquired about the whereabouts of Leprich.

"He's such a nice man," the old woman said in a thick Mittel-European accent. "He shared tomatoes. He volunteered at church. It is not possible."

"I think it's disturbing that you make excuses for this guy," Rambam answered. He explained to her that Leprich not only volunteered for service at the concentration camp but that he belonged to the elite Death's Head Battalion of the Waffen SS, one of the most brutal outfits in the Nazi regime.

"Do you think that when you take him that your people are coming back?" she said through the screen.

"My people?" Rambam asked with an arch of the eyebrow.

"Yes, I think that maybe you are a Jew?" She giggled.

"You have to watch out for those Jews," said Rambam, a Jew.

"I forgot about it," said the old woman. "It's best."

Gotta love the complicit neighbors, one above that doesn't care that he was in the SS as a death camp guard and another that likely shares his sentiments. And all the while, survivors get to live in proximity to the filthy perpetrators:

Sam Offen cannot forget about it. He is a survivor of Mauthausen, a young Jew who was interned there from June 1944 through May 5, 1945, when American forces liberated him. Though Offen does not remember Leprich, he does remember men like him who stood sentry on the perimeter of the camp and the quarry where Offen was forced to work at slave labor. Offen lives just 30 miles from Leprich

"There were 180 steps in the quarry," remembered Offen, now 88. "Run down. Pick up a big stone, put it on your shoulder. All day long. Run down. Run up. Run down and up with that heavy stone on your shoulders. The Nazis were so cruel they did not even have to use bullets to kill us. All they did was push us down to our death, from the top of the quarry to the floor of the quarry.

"I know Leprich's neighbors probably claim he is such a nice person. But how can they claim these people are not murderers?" Offen asked. "If we survivors never get justice, then how can we say anything will change?"
Simple, there is no justice. For 60 plus years now there's been a deliberate policy of indifference on the part of the government to let these Nazis live the good life here in the US and get away with their crimes.
It has not been a good summer for Nazi death camp guards hiding in the United States. Other suspects in the Spanish probe, Anton Tittjung and Josias Kumpf, both living in Wisconsin, may be deported. A fourth suspect -- retired Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk -- was deported from the United States to Germany earlier this year.

And then came news earlier this week that yet another war criminal living in Detroit -- John Kalymon, an 88-year-old retired autoworker living in Troy -- faces deportation.

A federal judge determined that Kalymon was a member of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police who fired shots while rounding up and deporting Jews during the war.

Kalymon cried on his front porch Monday, telling an Associated Press reporter: "I love this country because it's my country. I'm going to die here," he said.

As for Leprich, no answer at his door. His neighbors claim they haven't seen him in months. Someone must be cutting his grass and weeding the tomatoes.

"If he's not home, I don't know where he is," said Joseph McGinness, Leprich's Cleveland-based lawyer. "But the (federal government) doesn't want this kind of publicity. It looks ugly taking a guy out of his house in a wheelchair, putting him on an airplane and taking him to Germany and try him. I doubt he'll go anywhere."
In other words, kill enough people, hide or just live somewhere the government is indifferent about for long enough and you'll be just fine. Great moral lesson there.

And so Rambam, the Nazi hunter, stood in Leprich's driveway, having got his man, but his man still getting away with it.

"I'm astounded," he said. "He's a killer, a murderer, and he's living the good life within driving distance of Holocaust survivors and no one seems to care."

Strangely enough, the government filed a criminal case in 2003, Case # 2:03-mj-80485-JU against Leprich for his fasification of immigration documents and failure to report his change of address, and in 2006 the government dismissed the case on the basis that Leprich was deported (when in fact he wasn't).

Oh for law enforcement, since Johan Leprich can be found in the phone book he shouldn't be too hard to pickup:
JOHN M LEPRICH, born 1925, Address: 36059 CAPPER DR, CLINTON TOWNSHIP, MI 48035, (586)791-2276.

Anybody from ICE have time to go get a warrant, search his house, and pick him up on the deportation order?

Update: In addition, Debbie Schlussel has helpfully pointed out, via email, that she has thoroughly covered the Johan Leprich affair on her blog.

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