Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Quiet Life Belied Man's Nazi Past, Officials Say Exhausting Search Led to Gunfight in Kansas

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Quiet Life Belied Man's Nazi Past, Officials Say Exhausting Search Led to Gunfight in Kansas

Article excerpt

A 79-year-old balding man who tended a small garden here and never got so much as a parking ticket is the latest target of the U.S. Justice Department's 17-year hunt for Nazis.

Historians with the department's Office of Special Investigations allege that Michael Kolnhofer was a Nazi concentration camp guard. They tracked him through a paper trail of tattered records that include captured German documents, rosters of prison guards, immigration lists and tax records.

The office's director, Eli Rosenbaum, said the hulking 240-pound widower, who spent an uneventful 46 years in the United States and worked construction jobs in the Kansas City area, had a hideous past as a member of the Waffen-SS responsible for torturing and murdering Jews and others prisoners during World War II. And, unlike the Hollywood stereotype of a survivor recognizing the guard on a public street, the secrets did not unfold in such a dramatic way. It took years of research, Rosenbaum said. Some cases take up to three years from the time a Justice Department historian first plugs the name found in prison guard records into a computer. "This era of Nazi-hunters is not done James Bond style," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. "It's done in the world archives with meticulous paperwork." The allegations against Kolnhofer delighted some in the Jewish community as word spread across the country. Kolnhofer was kept under police watch Thursday at the University of Kansas Medical Center. He was in critical condition, suffering from a bullet wound to the leg. A policeman shot him Tuesday night on his front porch after Kolnhofer waved a gun and fired at police and reporters. The showdown came just hours after the government filed papers seeking to strip Kolnhofer of his citizenship for lying on his application to enter this country by concealing his wartime activies. According to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court, Kolnhofer took part in the Nazi-sponsored persecution of war prisoners while at two camps: Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. At the Sachsenhausen camp, at the age of about 26, Kolnhofer was an armed guard of prisoners until January 1944. He was admitted into the Waffen-SS in 1942. He was transferred to Buchenwald near Weimar, Germany, in 1944. Court papers allege that Kolnhofer was transferred out of camp service and placed in a combat unit in Hamburg by early 1945. At Sachsenhausen, 30,000 Jews, Soviets and other prisoners of war were killed by shooting, hanging, gassing, beatings and other means. At Buchenwald, about 43,000 were killed or died at the camps from exposure, exhaustion, lethal injection and medical experimentation. The affidavit says members of the SS Death's Head Battalions, including Kolnhofer himself, "ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise practiced in the persecution of prisoners because of race, religion, national origin or political opinion." `He Never Hurt Anybody' Kolnhofer was born on March 6, 1917, in Preslatinci, Croatia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and later part of Yugoslavia. …

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