Connecticut man called former Nazi collaborator; deportation sought
GUILFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Walter Berezowskyj, a retired machinist who spends his days tending to his beehives and garden, cries when he talks about the graves he had to dig for the Germans in World War II.
But the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday said the 73-year-old man was in reality a willing Nazi guard at camps in Poland and Austria where thousands of Jews were murdered or worked to death.
In a complaint filed in federal court, the Justice Department seeks Berezowskyj’s deportation. But he said Tuesday in an interview at his home that he never served with the Nazis and is a victim of mistaken identity.
``I never hurt nobody,″ said Berezowskyj, who speaks broken English. ``My ammunition was shovel and pitchfork. I was like a prisoner. I worked like a slave. I had no choice. I was afraid. I no want to die.″
Berezowskyj said he fled to Germany from Ukraine in 1943 after his father and sister died at the hands of the Communists. In Germany, he said, he was forced to dig graves and foxholes.
Berezowskyj said he felt guilty about digging the graves but he was helpless.
``I thought it would never wash out of me,″ said Berezowskyj, crying. ``But I think I got a life, a meal, a place to sleep. I just follow what they tell me to do. I can do nothing.″
In 1949 Berezowskyj came to the United States, telling officials here he had spent the war working on farms.
But the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigation said Berezowskyj was trained as an SS guard at the Trawniki Training Camp in Poland, then served at a slave-labor camp in Poland and a concentration camp in Austria.
``The Trawniki men rounded up and murdered Jews throughout Nazi-occupied Poland and brutally enslaved thousands of non-Jewish Poles,″ OSI Director Eli Rosenbaum said.
Married with three sons, two daughters and 12 grandchildren, Berezowskyj sat in a modest two-story house filled with religious icons, including a picture of Pope John Paul II. In his yard were chickens in a beat-up trailer and a collection of lawn jockeys.
A longtime resident of this New Haven suburb, he was once a 4-H Club leader.
``He taught me woodworking,″ Guilford Deputy Police Chief Thomas Terribile said. ``I can’t remember the guy ever saying a bad word about anybody.″
The government said 59 Nazi persecutors found to be residing in the United States were stripped of U.S. citizenship, and another 48 people were under investigation.