In 1989, when it became clear the U.S. government was about to strip former Auschwitz guard Jakob Denzinger of his citizenship, he fled to Croatia, where he continues to live comfortably, collecting a monthly Social Security payment of about $1, 500, which is about double the income of the average Croatian worker, an Associated Press investigation found.
Denzinger, 90, is among many dozens of Nazi war criminals who collected millions of dollars in Social Security payments after their U.S. citizenship had been revoked and they were deported.
The payments resulted from promises the U.S. Justice Department was in the habit of making to Nazis, to convince them to leave without dragging their case in court: if they left the U.S. on their own, they could keep their Social Security, the AP reported.
Like Denzinger, many Nazis lied about their pasts in their application to enter the U.S. after World War II. The fact of their lying on that application was grounds for revocation of their American citizenship, but their deportation had to be pursued on a case by case basis. So the government settled.
The AP report charges that among the recipients of millions of dollars were armed SS troops who guarded Nazi camps where millions of Jews perished; an SS guard who participated in the “liquidation” of the Warsaw ghetto; a Nazi collaborator who turned in thousands of polish Jews; and a German rocket scientist accused of using slave labor to build the V-2 rocket.
The AP’s findings are the result of more than two years of interviews, research and analysis of records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and other sources.
According to the AP, since 1979, at least 38 of 66 deported Nazis kept their Social Security benefits.
Of the 66, at least four are alive, living in Europe on their U.S. Social Security.
Justice Department Spokesman Peter Carr said in an emailed statement that Social Security payments were never used as an incentive or as a threat to persuade Nazi suspects to depart voluntarily.
“The matter of Social Security benefits eligibility was raised by defense counsel, not by the department, and the department neither used retirement benefits as an inducement to leave the country and renounce citizenship nor threatened that failure to depart and renounce would jeopardize continued receipt of benefits, ” Carr said.
Nazi Denzinger’s son, who lives in the U.S., confirmed that his father receives Social Security payments and said he deserved them. “This isn’t coming out of other people’s pockets, ” Thomas Denzinger said. “He paid into the system.” Plus his father is paying 30 percent in taxes. “They should be taking out nothing, ” he said.