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United States v. Hajda

January 23, 1998




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 94 C 5174 David H. Coar, Judge.

Before EASTERBROOK, MANION, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

EVANS, Circuit Judge.



A former guard at a notorious Nazi concentration camp living as a neighbor? Four years ago, most people in Schiller Park, a Chicago suburb, might have thought things like this happen only in places like Argentina, not in America. *fn1 That sort of thinking probably changed in 1994, however, when the government brought this suit (under 8 U.S.C. sec. 1451(a)) to denaturalize Schiller Park resident Bronislaw Hajda, a 73-year-old retired factory worker who spent 22 years working at the Container Corporation of America in Chicago.

The government argued two grounds for denaturalization--that Hajda was ineligible for the 1950 visa he received because he served as a Nazi guard, and that he misrepresented material facts by failing to disclose his Nazi past on his visa application. Hajda concedes that if the charges against him are true he can be denaturalized, but he says the government nabbed the wrong man. He was a victim of the Nazis, he says, not a collaborator. The case went to trial and the district court found Hajda's story-- that he wasn't a Nazi guard because he was a prisoner in another concentration camp-- incredible. The district judge believed the government had the right man so he revoked Hajda's citizenship, United States v. Hajda, 963 F. Supp. 1452, 1458 (N.D. Ill. 1997), a judgment Hajda now appeals. Hajda's deportation has been put on hold pending our review of his case.

Hajda's appeal, apart from a few pesky evidentiary issues, is an appeal on the facts. We'll start with those facts which are undisputed. Hajda, of Goralian (an ethnic group from southern Poland) extraction, was born on March 19, 1924, in Jordanov, a small town in lower southern Poland. He was the only "Bronislaw Hajda" living in Jordanov. Hajda had a brother, Wladyslaw, and two sisters, Kazimiera and Maria. From the late 1930's until 1942 he worked for his father as an apprentice shoemaker. His middle name was his father's name, Stanislaw.

Jumping to 1945, after the war ended, Hajda got a job as a civilian guard for a Polish military unit working with the U.S. Army. After Congress passed the Displaced Persons Act (DPA) (which made it easier for European refugees to get visas but made Nazis and Nazi collaborators ineligible for visas), he decided to come to America. Following the DPA's rules, he first got certified as a displaced person and then filled out a visa application, which disavowed any Nazi affiliation. The DPA administrators, who were supposed to investigate visa applicants to screen out the unqualified, investigated (how deeply we don't know) Hajda but didn't turn up any Nazi connections.

In May of 1950 Hajda's visa application was granted. A month later he arrived in New York, and in 1955 he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He settled in Schiller Park, worked at Container Corporation, and apparently lived an uneventful life until the government pinned this suit on him in 1994.

What did Hajda do from 1942 to 1945? To answer this question we first look to some historical events. By July 1942 Operation Reinhard, the German code name for the systematic slaughter of Polish Jews, was in full swing, and three death camps-- Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka--were operating in south-central Poland. Numerous forced labor camps were also in full operation. Running these camps required manpower, and the Nazis didn't have enough Germans to police them. To make up for the lack of manpower, the infamous Nazi SS recruited Soviet P.O.W.'s. There were perks to being a guard--the recruits were paid cash--and the recruiting was successful.

However, as the tide of the war turned, a shortage of Soviet P.O.W.'s forced the SS to recruit Eastern European civilians into guard service. Starting in late 1942, the SS began recruiting guards from the Jordanov area.

The Nazis trained the recruits at a place called Trawniki. When recruits arrived they received an identification number, and the SS took down their personal information, snapped a photo, and obtained a signature and a thumbprint, all of which was put in a personnel file called a personalbogen. The SS instructed the recruits in the use of weapons and allowed them the practical experience of guarding Jewish prisoners at a nearby labor camp. The recruits were also taught enough German to understand their SS supervisors. Along the way, they were indoctrinated in the Nazi political philosophy. When training was complete the recruits received the rank of Wachmann (guard private) and were sent out to other camps.

Treblinka was one of the camps where Trawniki recruits ended up. It was actually two camps: the Treblinka Labor Camp (Treblinka I) and the Treblinka Death Camp (Treblinka II), an extermination facility where eventually hundreds of thousands of Jews lost their lives.

Supervised by the SS, Trawniki-trained guards at Treblinka I forced prisoners to work long hours on meager rations--bread, water, and watered down soup. In addition, the guards beat and often killed prisoners during labor details, and because all prisoners were eventually going to die, either from overwork or in the gas chambers, brutality was not forbidden. If any of the prisoners became too weak to work they were killed on the spot or taken into the woods and executed. From time to time the guards participated in the mass killings of prisoners.

The Nazis ordered Treblinka I evacuated on July 22, 1944, because the Red Army was closing in. Following orders, the guards first killed all Polish political prisoners; they released the other Polish prisoners. The next day they forced all the Jewish prisoners to lay face down in the middle of the camp. The guards then took the Jewish prisoners (in groups of 20 or so) to mass graves in the woods, where they were executed. Only a handful of the Jews at Treblinka I survived. By July 24 Treblinka I and II were evacuated and the guards fled west, away from the advancing Soviets.

Another camp, and one that figures prominently in this case, is Pustkow, a forced labor camp for, starting in the fall of 1942, Polish prisoners. Historians classify the camp at Pustkow into two periods--one from September 1942 until March 1943 and another from April 1943 until July 1944. During both periods, guards treated the Polish prisoners cruelly, with severe punishment the usual order of the day. During the first period more than 60 percent of the Polish prisoners died from the brutal conditions and from a typhus epidemic in the winter of 1942-43. In early 1943 the shipment of prisoners into the camp stopped (until it was better equipped), and the Nazis couldn't fulfill their forced labor needs because of the high mortality rate. By April of 1943 camp conditions improved--the prisoners' barracks were waterproofed, latrines and showers were built, and blankets were handed out--but the oppressive conditions (including two mass killings of more than 20 Poles) remained constant. Around 30 percent of Pustkow's Polish prisoners died during the second period.

On July 27, 1944, the Nazis evacuated Pustkow. The Jewish prisoners were sent to Auschwitz while the Polish prisoners waited in boxcars for the Nazis to decide what to do with them. The Nazis eventually sent the women to ...

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