Hitler’s ‘Last Soldier’ Surrenders After 40 Years As A Fugitive
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The man who called himself ″Hitler’s last soldier in America″ lived in fear for 40 years that every stranger he met might be an FBI agent come to arrest him for escaping from a New Mexico prisoner-of-war camp.
Georg Gaertner, 64, was the last of 2,222 German prisoners of war who escaped in the United States. Most were free less than a day.
But Gaertner’s life on the run lasted for 40 years, from September 1945 until Wednesday, when he surrendered to Immigration and Naturalization Service officials in suburban San Pedro.
INS Western Regional Director Harold Ezell, who joined the fugitive and his attorneys at a news conference, said Gaertner, who has been married to a U.S. citizen for 21 years, would probably be allowed to remain in this country.
″We feel that someday he will be able to become a citizen of the United States,″ Ezell said.
Gaertner wept as he described his 1945 escape from Camp Deming, and his 40 years as a fugitive.
″You envision close calls all the time. You watch everybody,″ he said.
He said he learned recently that FBI agents came close to him in 1964 when he and his wife were living in Palo Alto. An alert was posted. ″I never knew when I was sitting in a coffee shop if the man next to me was going to arrest me,″ he said.
But he has had a good life here and wants to stay.
″During my freedom, I have lived my own version of the American dream,″ Gaertner said.
He said he fled the POW camp Sept. 21, 1945, because he knew the Russians had taken over his hometown of Schweidnitz, Germany, and he feared he would be placed in a gulag, or slave labor camp, if he was sent back.
″I only escaped from the camp so that I could remain safe and free in the United States,″ he said.
He crept under a fence, avoided sentries and hopped a westbound freight train that deposited him in San Pedro. Nobody was hurt.
Gaertner, who lives near Denver under the name Dennis Whiles, has written a book, ″Hitler’s Last Soldier in America,″ published Wednesday to coincide with his surrender.
The book was written with Arnold Krammer, a history professor at Texas A&M University, author of ″Nazi Prisoners of War in America.″
Krammer said the Army indicated that all but 12 of the German prisoners who escaped from the 511 POW camps in this country had been recaptured by the time the last repatriation ships sailed. Gaertner was the last.
Ezell said Gaertner, whose file was closed in 1976, was forgotten until his attorneys, Ronald T. Oldenburg of Hawaii and Michael-John Biber of Los Angeles, arranged the surrender.
Gaertner married in 1964 and opened a tennis club in Aptos, near San Francisco, associating with such celebrities as court star Bjorn Borg, and actors Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack, Biber said.
Gaertner said he hid his identity from his wife, Jean, until 1983, when she threatened to leave him because he was evasive about his past.
″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.″
Asked about the title of his book and being ″Hitler’s Last Soldier,″ he said: ″It was more or less the publisher’s idea.″ The book is published by Stein & Day of New York.