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A former Nazi concentration-camp guard who now lives in Delaware County, Pa., was tracked down by researching archived documents released from the former Soviet Union, a Justice Department lawyer said in his opening statement Wednesday. William H. Kenety V of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations said that the documents — a handful of Nazi personnel records — prove that Theodor Szehinskyj, 76, of Drexel Hill, Pa., was a member of the Waffen SS Death’s Head Battalion and that he was stationed at three different prison camps in the final years of World War II. In addition to Szehinskyj’s name, some of the documents also bear his date of birth, his mother’s maiden name, his religion and his birthplace, Kenety said. But Szehinskyj’s lawyer, Andre Michniak, told U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell that Szehinskyj was a farm laborer in Austria throughout the war. The government’s proof, he said, falls far short of the evidence ordinarily used in prosecutions of former Nazis, since there are no photographs, handwriting, thumbprints, signatures or eyewitnesses. But Kenety said Szehinskyj’s story didn’t pan out. Although he did work on a farm in Austria, he left to join the Waffen SS in 1943, he said. The story unraveled, Kenety said, when the government located the octogenarian owner of the farm, Hildegarde Lechner, who confirmed that Szehinskyj left her family’s employ in 1943. Kenety said Szehinskyj was “too clever by half” because he thought he could fool the government by telling a partially true story and fudging only the dates. But he didn’t count on the fact that Lechner would still be alive to refute his tale. If Dalzell sides with the government, Szehinskyj stands to lose his citizenship. And if that happens, Szehinskyj will be subject to immediate deportation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. At issue in the trial is whether Szehinskyj lied about his activities during the war when he first arrived in the United States in 1948. Kenety said researchers have uncovered documents that prove Szehinskyj served as a guard at the Gross-Rosen concentration camp, the Warsaw concentration camp and the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Sachsenhausen was captured by the Russians at the end of the war, and its records have been archived ever since in Kiev. Kenety said the records show that Szehinskyj, who was born in Malnow, Poland, in 1924, entered the Waffen-SS in 1943. The SS was originally an elite paramilitary arm of the Nazi Party of Germany and eventually became responsible for enforcing Nazi policies. From 1943 to 1945, Kenety said, Szehinskyj served as an armed concentration camp guard whose job was to force Jews and other prisoners to perform their labor and to shoot any prisoner who tried to escape. The suit says Szehinskyj was issued a visa in 1950 under the Displaced Persons Act and that in 1958 he became a full-fledged citizen when he was issued a certificate of naturalization by the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. But under the law, Szehinskyj was ineligible for citizenship, the suit says, due to his service as a concentration camp guard and his participation in the persecution of Jews and other groups targeted by the Nazis. According to the suit, during the period of his service as a guard, prisoners at the three camps were confined, beaten, tortured, forced into slave labor and murdered. Sachsenhausen, which opened in Oranienburg, Germany, near Berlin in 1936, was the Nazis’ second largest camp, after Auschwitz, by 1943. Warsaw was a smaller camp opened after the suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in the spring of 1943. Prisoners were brought to Warsaw from other camps to work as slave laborers demolishing the Warsaw ghetto. About 120,000 prisoners passed through Gross-Rosen and its subcamps, and an estimated 40,000 prisoners died there. The Nazis used the concentration camps to isolate and kill Jews, Gypsies, Poles and other Nazi-designated enemies, first in Germany and later in occupied countries, according to Justice Department attorney Eli M. Rosenbaum, the head of the special investigations office. Prosecutors say they have six documents that show Szehinskyj was a member of the SS Death’s Head Guard Battalion at Sachsenhausen. One document, they say, shows that Szehinskyj arrived at Sachsenhausen in May 1943 as part of a transfer of guards from Gross Rosen. He is allegedly identified by name, rank and date of birth. Another document is a “troop muster roll” that allegedly shows Szehinskyj was being transferred to the guard company at the Warsaw concentration camp. Since it began work in 1979, the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations has had 63 Nazi persecutors stripped of U.S. citizenship, and 52 of them have been expelled from this country. Rosenbaum said the office’s watchlist has prevented more than 150 suspected Nazi persecutors from entering the United States. More than 250 people in this country remain under investigation by the unit. EXPERT TAKES STAND The first witness to take the stand yesterday was Charles W. Sydnor Jr., one of the world’s leading authorities on Nazi war crimes. A historian and longtime college professor, Sydnor wrote his doctoral thesis on the very Nazi division that Szehinskyj allegedly served in — the Waffen-SS Death’s Head Battalion. A Fulbright scholar, Sydnor, 56, earned his Ph.D. in history in 1971 at Vanderbilt University. Since then, Sydnor has devoted most of his professional career to studying and teaching German history, with a concentration on the Nazi era from 1933 to 1945. His teaching career began with a post at Ohio State University followed by stints at Vanderbilt, Longwood College and Hampden-Sydney College. From 1984 to 1991, he served as president of the college where he had earned his bachelor’s degree — Emory and Henry College in Emory, Va. — where he taught an annual seminar on the Holocaust. Among his many books and articles, Sydnor wrote “Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945,” which was published in 1977 and revised for a reprinting in 1990. These days, Sydnor is at work on a full-length biography of Reinhard Heydrich, a man he describes as “one of the most powerful men in the Third Reich and a key figure in the Nazi war against the Jews.” Beginning in the mid-1980s, Sydnor began a side career as an expert witness in cases against alleged Nazis living in the United States. He has testified in 17 trials, including two recent cases in Philadelphia, and has provided sworn affidavits in seven other cases including the celebrated case of John Demjanjuk, who was accused of concealing the fact that he was the infamous “Ivan the Terrible.” Sydnor’s research has taken him around the world, to sites in Germany, Poland and Israel, where he studied archival documents and visited the museums of the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. Dalzell qualified Sydnor as an expert in Nazi policies and practices, the history of the SS and the concentration-camp system. For the several hours that followed, Sydnor provided a crash course on World War II and the rise of the concentration camps. Along the way, he linked together dozens of documents that the government cites as corroboration of its theory that Szehinskyj is the man named in the Sachsenhausen personnel records. Sydnor is expected to be on the witness stand for most of Wednesday and possibly into Thursday. The trial is expected to conclude next week.

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