Update, Feb. 1: The fate of Peter Egner has been decided: He died of natural causes last week, the AP reports today. His death was confirmed by the Dept. of Health. Egner was 88, in poor health, and had earlier claimed he wouldn't live to have his day in court. He insisted he was innocent.
Jan. 20: A Seattle federal judge has turned down efforts by both accused Nazi war criminal Peter Egner and U.S. prosecutors for a quick resolution--a summary judgment--of the charges against Egner, and both sides have begun moving toward a trial, likely a historic one, set to begin February 22.
The government intends to prove that the 88-year-old Bellevue man helped escort Jews into mobile gas chambers en route to mass burials in Serbia in 1940, although Egner has already asked the court to bar virtually all the government's witnesses, prosecutors say.
Among those Egner wants to exclude is Dr. Peter Black, a senior historian at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Egner thinks his own expert's historical version of the Holocaust will suffice, and says Black's testimony would be "duplicative." Prosecutors say any belief that experts totally agree on Holocaust history is "baseless."
Egner has denied any direct role in the mass murder of more than 17,000 Serbian Jews, Gypsies, and political dissidents by the Nazis' Security Police and Security Service (SPSS) during Egner's service from 1941 to 1943.
The SPSS at times operated a mobile death unit called the Einsatzgruppen, and more than 6,200 of the SPSS's victims from Belgrade's Semlin concentration camp died after being herded into the unit's vans--asphyxiated by piped-in exhaust as they took a funeral ride through Belgrade's streets. They were then interred in mass burial pits at the foot of Avala Mountain, southeast of Belgrade.
The government is attempting to denaturalize Egner and send him back to Serbia for a war-crimes trial. Egner immigrated to the U.S. in 1960 and applied for citizenship five years later--lying, the government says, on his application. Egner and his wife settled near Portland,where he worked as a hotel food-service worker, then sold real estate. After his wife Gerda died in 2005, he moved to Bellevue to be near relatives.
Egner has tried to keep a low profile at his Bellevue apartment since news of the charges broke. "I try to stay out of public as much as possible," he says. "Unless it is necessary, I do not leave the retirement community in which I live." Most fellow residents "treat me kindly, but there are some who ignore me altogether."