LOS ANGELES — The U.S. government's bid to deport a retired La Habra grocery clerk who allegedly served as a Nazi concentration camp guard erupted into violence outside the courtroom Monday when a Jewish observer lunged at him, screaming, "How many Jews did you kill?"
U.S. attorneys said Monday that they would produce evidence that Bruno Karl Blach, 66, served as a guard and dog handler with a Waffen SS battalion at the Dachau and Wiener-Neudorf concentration camps, then tried to conceal his violent past when he immigrated to the United States in 1956.
Blach's attorney, Russell Parker, said the government so far has produced no evidence that Blach was involved in any of the atrocities detailed during the first day of testimony before U.S. Immigration Judge James Vandello as nearly a dozen members of various Jewish groups watched quietly.
"It's essentially, at this point in time, guilt by association," Parker said. "The people at Dachau suffered persecution; we've already agreed to that. People would be crazy to say it didn't happen. . . . But we can't (prosecute) World War II here."
Held Back by Friends
The confrontation began later, when a man--whom fellow Jews would identify only as a Budapest immigrant named Andy--lunged at Blach as he emerged from the courtroom and had to be held back by friends.
"How many Jews did you kill, you son of a bitch," he demanded of Blach. "Did you kill my father? Did you kill my mother?"
As Blach watched without expression, the angry man threw a camera at photographers, bitterly demanding to know "who's on trial here" before he was pushed into an elevator.
"All the survivors, they build their lives all over again," explained Harry Kagan, a San Fernando Valley resident and concentration camp survivor who said he was one of several Jews who came to Monday's deportation hearing "just to watch."
"They left, they live, they dance, they laugh. But beneath all that is a bloody undercurrent," he said. "What you see today--it burst out."
In a press release distributed at Monday's hearing, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith praised efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice "to ferret out the perpetrators of Nazi terror who have burrowed in obscurity in this country, and to bring them to the bar of justice."
The deportation motion filed by the Justice Department alleges that Blach, a native of Czechoslovakia, became a member of the Nazi Party and the Waffen SS, the largest branch of Adolf Hitler's elite protection units, in 1939.
Blach has said he was drafted into the SS and had no choice about serving at the camps. He has said he never had any direct contact with inmates.
But Bruce Einhorn, senior trial attorney for the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, said in opening statements Monday that Blach served "voluntarily" as an armed SS guard and dog handler at the Dachau and Wiener-Neudorf concentration camps between 1940 and 1945.
He said Blach also participated in the forced evacuation on foot of prisoners from Wiener-Neudorf to Mauthausen in 1945.
Einhorn said he will produce live and videotaped testimony from about eight witnesses, including a former inmate of Wiener-Neudorf, and Ernst Duva, an ethnic German who allegedly served with Blach at both camps and trained him as a dog handler.
"Those guards, always armed and often supplemented with specially trained attack dogs, held sovereign sway over the lives and deaths of those interned at Dachau and Wiener-Neudorf. One of those guards and dog handlers was the respondent, Bruno Blach," Einhorn said.
"As the day must follow the night, Bruno Blach's deportation must follow from his participation in the dark period of Nazi persecution . . . ," Einhorn said.
Testimony from the only witness called Monday, Nazi-era historian Charles W. Sydnor Jr., documented the roles of SS guards at concentration camps and the atrocities perpetrated on inmates there.
"Would SS guards at Dachau have participated in executions of prisoners?" Einhorn asked.
"Yes, sir," Sydnor replied.
The government claims that Blach's alleged service as a guard, in concert with his concealment of that fact when he applied for a U.S. visa during the early 1950s, is sufficient under federal case law to deport him.
Parker, Blach's attorney, lost his bid to exclude broad-based testimony about the Nazi regime's activities before and during World War II, claiming that they were not at issue.
In his opening statement, Parker emphasized that Blach's deportation case "is not a trial of the Nazi regime or the horrible atrocities that occurred at the camp at Dachau. There is no issue, this was a terribly dark time in the history of man, but this case is not the U.S. government vs. the Nazi regime, it is the U.S. government vs. Bruno Blach. . . .
"If that were so, we would have the entire German citizenry on trial here for the persecution that occurred during World War II."
After the hearing, Parker added: "Being there alone is not enough. If you've got somebody who says he hit me, he shot me, he beat me, then fine."
Blach declined any comment Monday. But in an earlier interview, he denied any direct involvement with inmates at the camps.
"I didn't do anything wrong at all," he said. "I didn't have any contact at all. . . . I was the lowest grade you can have in the army. When you are drafted, what do you do? I didn't have any choice. I had to do what they told me."