FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
MONDAY, JANUARY 14, 2002
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT MOVES TO REVOKE U.S. CITIZENSHIP OF FORMER DEPUTY TO NAZI OFFICIAL RESPONSIBLE FOR MASS KILLINGS
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Justice today initiated proceedings to revoke the U.S. citizenship of a Lockport, Illinois man based on his participation in the persecution and murder of Jews and other civilians during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania in 1941.
The complaint, filed today in U.S. District Court in Chicago by the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, alleges that Peter John Bernes (a/k/a Petras Bernotavi ius), 79, worked during the summer of 1941 as the deputy to Werner Loew, a Nazi-appointed mayor and police commander assigned to Kupiškis, Lithuania.
The complaint alleges that 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 in Kupiškis by armed men under Loew's command. More than 300 other local residents, among them a nine-year-old boy, were arrested and murdered as political prisoners. Bernes worked in an office near the overcrowded jail where victims were held without adequate food and beaten before being shot to death.
Michael Chertoff, Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, said, "The case against 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."
OSI Director Eli M.. Rosenbaum added, "Although more than 1,000 Jews were living in Kupiškis when the Nazis arrived, not a single man, woman or child survived their murderous spree." During the Nazi occupation of Lithuania, some 190,000 Jews, approximately 94% of the Jewish population, were killed by the Nazis and local collaborators.
Bernes immigrated from Germany in 1947 and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in Chicago in 1954. The complaint states that 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 Bernes are a result of OSI's ongoing efforts to identify and take legal action against former participants in Nazi persecution residing in this country. Since OSI began operations in 1979, 66 Nazi persecutors have been stripped of U.S. citizenship, and 54 such individuals 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 OSI's watchlist border control program. OSI has nearly 200 U.S. residents currently under active investigation.