A federal judge yesterday revoked the citizenship of a disabled Chicago factory worker identified by 12 witnesses as a Nazi Gestapo agent who murdered two dozen Jews in Poland between 1939 and 1943.
If appeals fail, 55-Year-old Frank Walus would become the first U.S. citizen ever deported from the United States for war crimes, according to William F. Conlon, an assistant U.S. attorney involved in the case.
Acting in a civil suit filed by the Justice Department, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Julius J. Hoffman read a summary of a 44-page opinion in which he said, "This court now finds that the defendant Frank Walus, was a Gestapo operative or agent operating in and around Czestochowa and Kielce, Poland, during World War II. Acting in that capacity, he did commit acts of unjustified violence which were criminal and must properly be described as war crimes or atrocities."
Walus stayed away from court yesterday on the advice of his lawyer because of "fear for personal safety." He leaned of the verdict from a radio newscast.
"I am very surprised and very hurt that in this country such an atrocity could happen," Walussaid later when interviewed in the kitchen of his home in the city's southwest side. "Hoffman's head was all set. The trial was just an act, like theater. He should have resigned from the case because he is Jewish. I also wanted a jury, and that was denied."
Hoffman, 83, who drew national attention as the judge presiding over the 1969 Chicago Seven trial stemming from the 1968 Democratic National Convention disorders, said in his opinion that federal courts have consistently held that a defendant has no right to a jury trial in civil denaturalization proceedings.
He held that Wallus illegally concealed "both his membership in the Gestapo and the commission of atrocities from the immigration authorities when he obtained his United States citisenship." Authorities revoked the certificate of baturalization issued to Walus in 1970.
If appeals fail, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service will begin administrative proceedings to deport Walus, a former automotive plant worker disabled by five heart attacks. Two resident aliens have previously been deported for alleged Nazi war crimes. Presumably he would be deported to Poland, although he gave up Polish citizenship when he becane a naturalized American.
The Walus case began in 1977, when two reporters from the now defunct Chicago Daily News learned that Israeli Nazi hunters were on the trail of a Chicagon. A three-month investigation led the newspaper reporters to Walus. In two lengthy reports, they described his alleged involvement in Nazi war crimes but did not identify him by name.
The Justice Department subsequently began the civil proceedings, which culminated in a dramatic, 17-day trial before Hoffman in March and April.
During the trial, 12 survivors of the Czstochowa and Kielce Jewish ghettos identified Walus as a Gestapo agent who, wearing Gestapo paraphernalia, on several occasions, murdered Jews, including children. In one of the most tense moments of the trial, Sara Leichter. One of the witnesses who came from Jerusalem, pointed to Walus and declared, "Here sits the murderer."
Another government witness, David Gelbhauer, testified that during the liquidation of the Czestochowa Jewish woman and her two young daughters, and order the mother to disrobe. When she refused, Walus killed her and then killed both children, Gelbhauer said.
Walus, a father of four and grandfather of two, testified that the witnesses were mistaken. He said he was born in 1922 in Germany of Polish parents, grew up in Poland and in 1940 was forced by the Nazis to work as a farm laborer in Germany during the remainder of World War II.
Four German farmers testified that they remembered Walus as a scrawny youngster who worked on their farms from 1940 to 1945.
After the suit was filed, Robert A. Korenkiewicz, attorney for Walus, found German national health insurance records which were introduced at the trial. All workers were covered by the state health insurance system, and the musty records seemed to corroborate the testimony of Walus.