August 26, 1993:
Man loses U.S. citizenship for wartime Nazi activities
A U.S.-born citizen was stripped of his U.S. citizenship yesterday for serving as a guard in three Nazi death camps and was ordered to leave the country in 60 days.
It was believed to be the first time a U.S. citizen has been ordered deported for World War II Nazi activities. While 46 people have been denaturalized for aiding the enemy, they were all born in other countries.
Nikolaus Schiffer, 74, a retired baker born in Philadelphia and now living in New Ringgold, Pa., was not charged with any specific crimes in connection with his participation in the Waffen SS, the elite branch of the German army known for its racial purity and loyalty to Adolf Hitler.
But after hearing testimony in March in the nonjury trial in Easton, Pa., including the testimony of concentration-camp survivors, U.S. District Judge Franklin Van Antwerpen ruled that Schiffer had lost his U.S. citizenship when he joined the Romanian Army and the SS and pledged allegiance to Hitler. He subsequently regained it illegally, the judge ruled.
Schiffer went to Romania as a child and grew up there. The Justice Department had contended that he joined the Romanian Army when that nation was allied with Nazi Germany. In July 1943, he joined the Waffen SS.
The judge ruled that after the war, Schiffer illegally got his U.S. citizenship back when he failed to tell U.S. officials that he had been arrested as a war-crimes suspect.
The case was brought by the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, set up in 1979 to prosecute suspected Nazis.
Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.
In United States v. Schiffer, 831 F. Supp. 1166 (E.D. Pa. 1993), aff'd without opinion, 31 F.3d 1175 (3rd Cir. 1994), the government brought a denaturalization action against Nikolaus Schiffer, a U.S.-born citizen who had previously been expatriated for his service as a member of the Romanian army and a guard at concentration camps during World War II, but who subsequently and successfully sought naturalization. Schiffer was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to non-citizen parents in 1919, but in 1920 he moved with his parents to Moravitz, Romania, where he maintained dual U.S. and Romanian citizenship as a minor. In 1940, he voluntarily presented himself for registration for the Romanian Army, even though Romania did not permit United States citizens bearing dual Romanian citizenship to serve in the Romanian Army. In 1941, he reported for basic training for Romanian Army service and, like his fellow soldiers, swore an oath of allegiance to the Romanian monarch, King Carol II. That December, Romania declared war on the United States. The defendant served in the Romanian Army until 1943. See generally 831 F. Supp. at 1169-71. In 1943, he volunteered to serve in the Waffen-SS Totenkopfsturmbann (Death's Head Battalion), an elite Nazi force, and like his fellow SS members, swore an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. In that capacity, the defendant served as a concentration camp guard until 1945. As a concentration camp guard, he never requested a transfer or refused any assignment. Id. at 1175-76. In 1945, he was captured and held by U.S. Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. The next year, he was discharged as a prisoner of war and arrested by U.S. authorities as a suspected war criminal. He was released in 1947. Id. at 1180-81. In 1952, the State Department executed a certificate of loss of citizenship to the defendant. The next year, he obtained an immigrant visa and was admitted to the United States accordingly. Id. at 1183-84. In 1958, he applied for naturalization. His application failed to disclose fully, however, his prior service and detention as a suspected war criminal. His naturalization application was approved on the basis of his misrepresentations, and a federal district court issued the defendant a certificate of naturalization. Id. at 1184-85.
In 1993, the same district court granted the government's request for an order canceling Schiffer's 1958 naturalization certificate. Id. at 1206. The court reasoned that the defendant, a natural born U.S. citizen, had relinquished his citizenship and then procured his naturalization through misrepresentation. Notably, the court justified its expatriation determination by noting that an intention to renounce U.S. citizenship could easily be inferred from the defendant's service in a hostile foreign army at war with the United States:
The Third Circuit took a similar view of service in a hostile foreign army in Breyer v. Meissner, 214 F.3d 416 (3rd Cir. 2000). Like Schiffer, Johann Breyer later joined the Death's Head Battalion during World War II. Id. at 418-19. The court first determined that Johann Breyer was entitled to citizenship at birth. Although he was born in Czechoslovakia in 1925, his mother was an American citizen. At the time, federal law granted citizenship at birth to children born abroad to fathers who are American citizens, but not to children born abroad to foreign fathers and mothers who are citizens of the United States. The court held the law unconstitutional and concluded that Breyer was entitled to citizenship at birth. Id. at 429. The court then remanded the case back to the district court to determine whether Breyer remained a U.S. citizen, in light of his activities during World War II. In doing so, the court expressly pointed out that Breyer's decision to join the Death's Head Battalion could constitute a renunciation of American citizenship, regardless of whether he was even aware of his entitlement to U.S. citizenship at the time:
[T]he knowing commitment made by a member of the Death's Head Battalion, during a period when Germany was at war with the United States, demonstrates a loyalty to the policies of Nazi Germany that is wholly inconsistent with American citizenship. Although when he took his oath of allegiance first to the Waffen SS and then to the Death's Head Battalion, Johann Breyer was not aware of his right to American citizenship, one could conclude that he voluntarily made a commitment that, had he known of this right, clearly would have repudiated it. . . . Johann Breyer may have made such a disclaimer of allegiance to the United States by a voluntary enlistment in the Waffen SS and then again in the Death's Head Battalion.
See also United States v. Ciurinskas, 148 F.3d 729, 734 (7th Cir. 1998) (holding that an individual who had served in the German Order Police during World War II had done so voluntarily, where there was no evidence that he had been conscripted, and where members of his battalion were permanently released from service upon a written request); United States v. Stelmokas, 100 F.3d 302, 313 (3rd Cir. 1996) (same).