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Deportation not solution

Greg Wagman | Tuesday, October 2, 2007

For an elite task force of Nazi-hunters, World War II refuses to die. Since 1979 the “Office of Special Investigation” has stripped U.S. citizenship from 108 ex-Nazis, and now, it can claim one more. Paul Henss, an 85-year-old man from Atlanta, Ga., will be deported and sent to face charges in Germany for his role in the Holocaust. But for anyone watching the case closely, it is clear that time spent hunting dying Nazis like Henss could be put to more constructive purposes.

As a young man, Paul Henss joined the Hitler Youth in 1934 and later volunteered to fight in the Waffen SS, Germany’s elite combat organization. He fought in battles with the most infamous, decorated German division of the war, the first SS Panzer Division. On leave from his division, Henss spent two months patrolling the outer fences of Dachau and Buchenwald with a guard dog. Today, it’s those two months that make Paul Henss a wanted man.

Before we rush to deport a senior citizen for his role in one of history’s greatest atrocities, let’s be clear about exactly what he did. Dachau and Buchenwald were concentration camps – not extermination camps – where prisoners were exploited for slave labor. As an exterior guard, Henss had little contact with victims, especially since his leave from the front lasted only two months. If he were a high-ranking officer or a camp commandant, his deportation would be much deserved, but this is not the case.

For those who disagree and believe Henss is just as culpable as a high-ranking officer, the question remains – what would deportation actually achieve? While any level of involvement in the Holocaust is appalling, deportation is not the best way to punish Henss. No matter how minor his role may have been, he did lie about his two month duty in order to enter the U.S. in 1955. Instead of deportation, which achieves nothing, Henss should be required to travel to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., at his own expense, to host a public lecture on his role in the Holocaust. This kind of event not only forces Henss to confront his past, but also offers the opportunity for others to hear how a perpetrator of history’s most infamous atrocity fell under the spell of a twisted, murderous ideology.

No one is asking Nazi-hunters to stop hunting aging Nazis in hiding, but we do need to start demanding more constructive solutions.

Greg Wagman


Keough Hall

Oct. 1