Precede NEW YORK
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A World War II German soldier who said he lived in fear of capture for 40 years after fleeing a prisoner-of-war camp surrendered to federal authorities today, saying he was relieved the ordeal was over.
Georg Gaertner, 64, author of a book which was published today called ″Hitler’s Last Soldier in America,″ wept as he described his 1945 escape from Fort Deming, N.M., and four decades as a fugitive.
Of the 2,000 prisoners of war who escaped American camps during the war, only 12 remained at large in 1946. By 1963, all but Gaertner had been captured.
″During my freedom, I have lived my own version of the American dream,″ Gaertner, whose fate now rests with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Denver, told a San Pedro news conference.
His wife of 21 years, Jean, had begun asking questions about missing links in his background.
″Her bags were packed, and the taxi was waiting,″ Gaertner said. ″Faced with that, I told the truth to her. She didn’t spurn me.
″I want to stay in the United States with her,″ he said.
INS Western Regional Commissioner Harold Ezell said chances were good that Gaertner could remain, because he is married to a U.S. citizen.
Ezell also said the FBI had canceled Gaertner’s fugitive arrest warrant in 1976. The case was revived when Gaertner’s attorneys, Ronald T. Oldenburg of Hawaii and Michael-John Biber of Los Angeles, contacted INS officials in San Pedro and arranged for Gaertner’s surrender.
The book chronicles his escape and subsequent years in Colorado, California and Hawaii working as a tennis pro, ski instructor, artist and contractor.
The book was written with Arnold Krammer, a history professor at Texas A&M University.
Krammer said Gaertner sought him out after he read a book Krammer had written, ″Nazi Prisoners of War in America.″ Gaertner told him ″I want to come in from the cold,″ Krammer said.
Gaertner was a sergeant in Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps when he was captured by the British in Tunis in 1943. He was turned over to the U.S. Army and brought to the United States where 425,000 German POWs were kept in 500 camps across the country.
He was interned at Camp Deming in New Mexico when he escaped on the night of Sept. 21, 1945. Making his way to a railroad track, he hopped aboard a Southern Pacific freight train and three days later was in California.
Already fluent in English, he assumed the name Dennis Whiles and learned American ways. He was living and working in Stockton, Calif., when the FBI issued a wanted poster for him in February 1947.
Despite his fear of discovery, he helped in the rescue of 226 passengeres in a train trapped beneath an avalanche in January 1952. His photograph was published but he was not recognized as an escaped POW.
He married in 1964 but it was not until three years ago, when his wife threatened to leave him because he refused to explain why he balked at things like filing for Social Security benefits, that he told her his story.
Gaertner and his wife live near Denver under the name Whiles.