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77-year-old Nazi Found In Quiet Detroit Suburb

Aired July 3, 2003 - 19:45   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A remarkable story. A 77-year-old man is facing deportation charges, right now, because of what he did 60 years ago. He was part of the deaths head battalion serving as an armed guard at a Nazi concentration camp in Austria, Mauthausen. More than 150,000 people were murdered there during world war II.
Yesterday this former SS guard was found hiding under the stairs in his home in Clinton Township, Michigan. WDIV's Mark Santia had the story.


MARK SANTIA, WDIV CORRESPONDENT: This is Johann Liprich. Late last night immigration and custom enforcement agents as well as Micomb County (ph) deputies and an undercover task force swarmed this quiet Clinton Township neighborhood and arrested the 77-year-old.

What did you see?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just a canine unit track and a police car and there was a guy parked next door for a few hours parked in his car. And that was kind of suspicious.

SANTIA: Agents say Liprich is a fugitive from Germany who's been on the run for the last several years. Federal sources tell local 4 this 77-year-old served in the Death Head Battalion a Nazi military component under Hitler's command during world war II.

He was stationed as a guard at Mauhausen, the main concentration camp in Auschwitz where 200,000 people were tortured and killed. Neighbors here in Clinton Township say Liprich is a quiet man who seldom came outside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I kind of feel sorry for the guy myself.

SANTIA: Hello, my name is Mark Santia. I'm from channel 4.

Liprich's family didn't want to speak on camera today. Local 4 has learned Liprich became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1958 then denaturalized in 1987 after agents learned he misrepresented his wartime service.


COOPER: Joining us now from the Justice Department, a man often called America's top Nazi hunter, Eli Rosenbaum, his actual title is Director of the Office of Special Investigations. Eli thanks for being with us.

This is just a remarkable story. And I guess been following this case, following this man for quite some time now. How did he finally come into custody?

ELI ROSENBAUM, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS: Well, of course, he disappeared in 1987 at the time that we won our citizenship revocation case against him and we have been off and on looking for him ever since so that we could commence our deportation case. He engaged in some very sophisticated efforts to elude us. Which were obviously successful.

COOPER: He was living in Canada for a while and there was evidence he was crossing back and forth, is that correct?

ROSENBAUM: There was a good deal of evidence that he was doing just that.

COOPER: At this point, obviously, people were helping him hide. He was found his home that his wife has been taking care of. A home he's owned for quite some time. Are they going to be prosecuted as well?

ROSENBAUM: Well those are questions that are under review right now. The decision will be made in consultation with the U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit.

COOPER: I think a lot of people when they hear about this are stunned that there, you know, is a Nazi living in the United States. How many active investigations, I don't know if you can tell us, how many active investigations do you have going on now? I mean, how many former or maybe even current Nazis are you hunting for?

ROSENBAUM: We've got 20 days cases in federal courts around the country involving Nazi criminals.

COOPER: Who are now living in the United States?

ROSENBAUM: Absolutely living here. And more than 100 people under investigation. Last year we commenced more new prosecutions, ten new cases, than any single year in our 23-year history.

COOPER: You know, Eli, I don't know if you read -- saw the piece before that we just aired. But I want to show something on the screen. This is a quote from the Detroit Free Press, something one of his neighbors said. Mary Bombassei is her name. She said, "why don't they just leave him alone. He's an old man. I know what he did was wrong, but they seemed like real nice people." What do you think when you hear this?

ROSENBAUM: Well, I think his neighbors ought to consider the victims of Mauthausen, who were at the receiving end of what Mr. Leprich did. There's no statute of limitations on these cases, and to do nothing would be to send the worst possible message to perpetrators of crimes of persecution, crimes against humanity, would be perpetrators, in the future, which is that if you succeed in eluding detection for long enough the U.S. government will just let bygones be bygones. And that's dangerous.

COOPER: And one thing about the Nazis is they certainly kept very good notes. I mean there's plenty of evidence about this man. He wasn't just some low-level German soldier. He was a SS guard.

ROSENBAUM: Yes he was. He was a member of the SS Deaths head battallion at Mauthausen, one of the most infamous camps. And we got his name all over Nazi documents.

COOPER: Where does he go from here? I know he get an I.N.S. hearing and all that because he's going to be, I guess, deported if found to be guilty of these I.N.S. charges. Where would he be sent?

ROSENBAUM: Well my office, O.S.I, is, of course, going to try the removal case, the deportation case, the immigration case, in Detroit. That will happen some months from now. It's early, a little too early to speculate on exactly where he'll go, but the goal is, of course, to remove all of these people to Europe which has the criminal jurisdiction in these cases that United States lacks, and at the same time to communicate the message as the attorney general said yesterday that Nazi criminals will not elude law enforcement authorities in this country. This is the wrong country for Nazi criminals to try to hide out in.

COOPER: Good message to leave this on. Eli Rosenbaum, appreciate you joining us. Fascinating work and fascinating case. Thank you.


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