Federal prosecutors in Seattle have dropped one count of the charges brought against accused Nazi war criminal Peter Egner of Bellevue. He thus is no longer charged with illegally obtaining his U.S. citizenship for failing to follow the principles of the U.S. Constitution. But the U.S. Attorney still plans to take Egner to trial in January on other charges, seeking his extradition to Serbia and a likely war-crimes trial there.
The dismissed count had sought revocation of his citizenship because the escorting of prisoners to a death camp, the U.S. said in the original July 2008 indictment, "demonstrates that he was not attached to the principles of the Constitution. Given his lack of attachment, his citizenship must be revoked." Prosecutors gave no reason for dropping that count last week.
He still faces charges for giving false testimony, misrepresenting his past, and lacking good moral character when obtaining his citizenship. But the government has been delayed in preparing its case, which involves an extensive documents hunt. This week, prosecutors, with Egner's agreement, asked the court for an extension of the trial date and discovery deadlines, stating:
The parties therefore request a resetting of trial approximately five weeks later than the current setting and an extension of time in which to complete three depositions and to produce English translations of documents. The parties also seek an extension of time in which to file motions...and briefs.
According to the U.S. Justice Dept.and Serb prosecutors, Egner was a member of the Gestapo and a SS deputy commander. He allegedly took part in the killing of Jewish women and children, whom he forced into vans equipped with gas chambers in Belgrade in 1941 and 1942. The detainees were reportedly killed in the mobile chambers as they were moved to Jajinci, outside Belgrade. There, bodies were dumped into a number of mass graves.
Trial is now set for Jan. 12, 2011, assuming Egner's health holds up. He has claimed to be seriously ill, a condition made worse by the public charges. "I began receiving phone calls after my case gained public attention," said Egner, 88, in his first public statement on the case. "One caller asked me 'Are you that nazi?' and I hung up the phone. I received another call from Serbia. After these calls I decided to change my phone number. It is now unlisted. I no longer answer the door to my house unless I know who it is and I screen all of my telephone calls."
Egner tries "to stay out of public as much as possible," he said. "Unless it is necessary I do not leave the [Bellevue] retirement community in which I live." Most fellow residents "treat me kindly, but there are some who ignore me altogether. Even the people that are nice to me have a look about them. I can see in their faces that they have doubts about me."