Official: Others in state may be Nazis
The Sharon man is the 131st person accused by the federal agency.
SHARON, Pa. (AP) -- The head of a federal agency that hunts down ex-Nazis for deportation says Anton Geiser, a retired Mercer County steel worker accused of being a German death camp guard during World War II, isn't the only Pennsylvanian suspected of such activities.
"We have a number of suspects in Pennsylvania," said Eli Rosenbaum, head of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, which was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 to track down Nazis who emigrated to the United States.
"We certainly have promising investigations in western Pennsylvania," Rosenbaum told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for Friday's editions. "We were actually very close to prosecuting a case a few years ago, and the individual died. We will file additional cases."
The OSI has won cases against 94 people and hopes to make Geiser, 79, of Sharon, the 95th. Geiser is the 131st person the agency has publicly accused of being a Nazi.
Geiser hasn't commented since the agency charged Monday that he was a guard -- then surnamed Geisser -- in the SS Death's Head Battalion at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany for most of 1943. Geiser's family said his attorney would have a comment by week's end, but the attorney, Jay Reisinger, hasn't issued a statement or returned a call to The Associated Press.
What's at risk
Geiser has 60 days to answer the allegations. If the OSI proves Geiser was a Nazi guard, he would lose his legal residency status and his Social Security benefits, be stripped of his American citizenship and be deported to either his native Croatia or to Austria, from which he emigrated in 1956.
Geiser would be allowed to keep any assets or property he's amassed since coming to the United States, Rosenbaum said.
"To do nothing would reward an individual like Anton Geiser for his success in eluding detection for all these decades," Rosenbaum said.
"He has enjoyed the great benefits of living in this wonderful country. Our position is, he wasn't entitled to do that, and that has to come to an end."
Rosenbaum said he can't comment on the work investigators have done to track Geiser's alleged Nazi past. But, in general, those tracked down by the OSI made a minor name change -- such as Geiser's dropping the "s" from his last name -- and lived quietly in communities where their past isn't known.
Rosenbaum's neighbors have described him as kindly and said they were shocked by the allegations. Some have said he should be forgiven even if it's proved he worked in the death camp, because he would have been a mere teen subject to his superiors.
"Some of them don't have so much as a speeding ticket, and that makes sense," Rosenbaum said. "The last thing in the world these people would want to do is catch the attention of the law."
Because OSI decisions can be appealed for years, the targets of investigations often die before they are deported. But Rosenbaum said it's important to press on nonetheless.
"It is essential to send, through these prosecutions, a message to the would-be perpetrators of war crimes in the future that if they dare to take part in such crimes, there is a real chance that what remains of the civilized world will pursue them," Rosenbaum said, "if necessary, for the rest of their lives."
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.