- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

The Justice Department has initiated proceedings to revoke the U.S. citizenship of an Illinois man based on his reported participation in the persecutions and murders of Jews and other civilians during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania in 1941.

The complaint, filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in Chicago by the department's Office of Special Investigations and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, accuses Peter John Bernes, also known as Petras Bernotavius, 79, of working during the summer of 1941 as the deputy to Werner Loew, a Nazi-appointed mayor and police commander assigned in Kupiskis, Lithuania.

The complaint said Mr. Bernes participated directly in the process of removing condemned prisoners from jail so they could be taken to nearby killing sites. During those months, more than 1,000 Jewish men, women and children approximately one-fourth of the town's population were murdered by armed men under Loew's command.

More than 300 other local residents, among them a 9-year-old boy, were arrested and murdered as political prisoners, department officials said. Mr. Bernes worked in an office near the overcrowded jail where victims were held without adequate food and beaten before being shot to death, they said.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, who heads the department's criminal division, said the case against Mr. Bernes "demonstrates the Justice Department's commitment to ensure that individuals who participated in genocide and other crimes against humanity find no refuge in the United States, regardless of when those atrocities occurred."

Eli M. Rosenbaum, director of the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), said that while more than 1,000 Jews were living in Kupiskis when the Nazis arrived, "not a single man, woman or child survived their murderous spree." He said that during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania, some 190,000 Jews, approximately 94 percent of the Jewish population, were killed by the Nazis and local collaborators.

Mr. Bernes emigrated from Germany in 1947 and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in Chicago in 1954. The complaint said he was not eligible to immigrate to the United States under visa regulations that barred the entry of any person who had "acquiesced in activities or conduct contrary to civilization and human decency on" behalf of the wartime Axis powers.

The proceedings to denaturalize Mr. Bernes are a result of the OSI's ongoing efforts to identify and take legal action against former participants in Nazi persecution residing in this country. Since the OSI began operations in 1979, 66 Nazi persecutors have been stripped of U.S. citizenship and 54 others have been removed from the United States.

Additionally, more than 150 suspected Nazi persecutors have been stopped at U.S. ports of entry and barred from entering the country as a result of the OSI's watch-list border-control program. The OSI has nearly 200 U.S. residents under active investigation.


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