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Germany drops probe of former camp guard deported from East TN

Friedrich Karl Berger arrived in his native Germany in February after being ordered deported by a court in Memphis last year.

BERLIN, Germany — German prosecutors said Wednesday that they have dropped an investigation of a 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard after he declined to be questioned following his deportation from East Tennessee. 

Friedrich Karl Berger arrived in his native Germany in February after being ordered deported by a court in Memphis last year.

Prosecutors in the northern town of Celle said at the time that he told German police he would be willing in principle to be questioned by investigators with a lawyer present. 

But they said Wednesday that Berger's attorney later said his client was “not available” for questioning as a suspect. 

They decided to close their investigation “after exhausting all evidence."

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Fritz Berger, the former Oak Ridge man who was deported Saturday to Germany for his time as a concentration camp guard, has agreed to be questioned by German authorities.

The Bild newspaper in Germany reports German prosecutors in Celle asked police in Hesse to speak with Berger, 95, once he's out of COVID-19 quarantine.

 According to the paper, a German state investigation into Berger's wartime activities could perhaps proceed if Berger agrees to talk.

RELATED: Former concentration camp guard, 95, removed from Tennessee, sent back to Germany

Berger is in an assisted living residence in the Frankfurt area, where he arrived Saturday. He is not in custody.

Prosecutors would ponder whether there's enough evidence to charge Berger. According to Bild, the question is if Berger was complicit in murders committed by the Nazis at the camp in March 1945 before Germany fell to the Allies.

Hugh Ward, his Knoxville attorney, said during lengthy U.S. deportation proceedings last year that his client didn't commit war crimes. He was a member of the German Navy assigned to guard prisoners as they came and went at the camp near the Dutch border.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Berger, however, did by his very role as a guard did take part in Nazi persecution of prisoners at the subcamp in Meppen, Germany, in 1945 and during their subsequent evacuation from Meppen to the main Neuengamme camp system in Hamburg.

Some 70 prisoners died during the two-week evacuation as Allies moved in to end Adolf Hitler's reign.

Berger was captured in a German forest in early April 1945.

   

Hesse state police detectives met Berger at the airport Saturday. He told them he would be willing to be questioned by investigators with a lawyer present, a spokesman for the Celle prosecutor’s office said Monday.

After the war, Berger wasn't prosecuted by the Allies or the Germans for any wartime activity. The British held him in 1945 until Christmas Eve, when he was freed.

He lived in his home country until 1956, when he moved to Canada. He then moved to the United States in 1959. He settled in Oak Ridge with his wife and daughter.

Berger continues to draw a German pension.

He has declined to speak to WBIR.

A prior German inquiry into Berger's conduct held while he was still living in Tennessee was discontinued in December, according to Bild, because of insufficient evidence.

Credit: APN
Stacheldraht ist am Dienstag, 4. Mai 2010 auf dem Gelaende der Gedenkstaette des ehemaligen KZ Neuengamme in Hamburg gespannt. Ehemalige Insassen besuchten am Dienstag das KZ Neuengamme als Zeitzeugen im Rahmen der internationalen Gedenkveranstaltungen anlaesslich des 65. Jahrestages der Befreiung der Konzentrationslager. (apn Photo/Axel Heimken) --- Barbed wire is seen at the memorial site of the former Nazi concentration camp 'Neuengamme' in Hamburg, northern Germany, on Tuesday, May 4, 2010. Numerous former inmates visited the KZ Neuengamme as a contemporary witnesses in the context of the memorial events held on the occasion of the 65th anniversary day of the liberation of the concentration camps. (apn Photo/Axel Heimken)