U.S. stepping up its pursuit of alleged war criminals

September 02, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- The two old men -- one a former tailor, the other a computer operator -- planned to live out their retirement years quietly in comfortable Florida towns.

But this summer, to the shock of friends and neighbors, the U.S. Justice Department exposed what it alleges are their deepest secrets:

Mathias Denuel, 73, of Naples, and Alexander Schweidler, 71, of Inverness, served as guards at Nazi concentration camps where thousands of Jews were killed, the government says. Mr. Schweidler, according to the Justice Department, shot and killed two prisoners on a construction detail on April 28, 1942.

While the controversial case of retired Cleveland auto worker John Demjanjuk dominates the headlines, the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit is stepping up its pursuit of

hundreds of other cases, including those of Messrs. Denuel and Schweidler, based on documents from newly available archives in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

From rosters of death-camp guards, payroll records, work-assignment sheets and similar documents, the department's Office of Special Investigations is recovering thousands of soldiers' names and vital statistics. They are then fed into a computer that holds postwar U.S. immigration files. If a match is found, investigators try to track down the person and find out if he is still alive.

About 400 people living in America are under active investigation, according to Justice Department officials. The OSI spends $3 million a year on a full-time staff of 38 lawyers, war historians and support personnel in Washington, in addition to part-time researchers in Germany and elsewhere.

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