Ted Junker first startled the residents of his rural Wisconsin town this month with his plans to open a memorial to Adolf Hitler on his property. As the controversy grew in advance of the site’s proposed opening, the 87-year-old retired farmer made an announcement with more far-reaching implications: Junker claimed to local media that he is a former officer of Nazi Germany’s Waffen SS.
Jewish groups in Wisconsin and other parts of the Midwest initially expressed concern over Junker’s stated plans to open his memorial to the Nazi leader to the public. With the latest development, however, they are taking a more aggressive tack, calling on the Department of Justice to investigate potential immigration violations stemming from Junker’s most recent claims.
“To the extent that Mr. Junker can inspire a new generation to perpetuate the ideals of the Nazi Party, he does represent a real threat,” said Adam Schupack, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s regional office in Chicago.
“If we have an SS officer living freely in the United States, that sends a very troubling message,” Schupack said, adding, “White supremacist groups are already hailing Mr. Junker as a hero.”
“His hateful message is a separate issue. We are now focused on getting the Department of Justice to investigate,” explained Jonathan Brostoff, president of the Campus Organization for Israel at the nearby University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Junker, who was born in Germany but lived in Romania during Hitler’s rise to power, claims to have joined the SS in 1940 and served primarily in Russia during the war. He immigrated to the United States in 1955, but it is unclear whether, at that time, he revealed his Nazi military service to American immigration authorities.
This question will be central to any investigation likely to follow from the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, the division tasked with tracking and prosecuting World War II-era war criminals.
“Service in the Waffen SS is not alone sufficient to bar someone from entering the country,” said OSI’s director, Eli Rosenbaum. “But there were certain units in the Nazi army — and American courts have supported this ruling in the past — that by definition, took part in acts of persecution by serving in these units.”
The United States lacks the jurisdiction to charge individuals with war crimes carried out during the Second World War, but it can move to deport residents who misled immigration officials about their participation in Nazi crimes of persecution.
While the Justice Department would not comment on Junker’s specific case, Rosenbaum suggested that, in general, any investigation conducted by his office relies on a mixture of captured documents, testimony from the accused individual and his cohorts, and the efforts of OSI’s in-house team of historians.
Since its establishment in 1979, OSI has won deportation and denaturalization cases against 101 World War II-era war criminals. The office is currently prosecuting 20 open cases in American courts.
The ADL, in concert with local Jewish groups such as the Campus Organization for Israel, first warned local officials in Walworth County, Wis., that Junker’s homemade memorial could become an unwelcome pilgrimage site for a range of hate groups. In comments to the press, Junker indicated that he hoped the museum would clear up what he referred to as historical inaccuracies about World War II and Hitler’s legacy.
Local authorities effectively blocked a public opening planned for last weekend by requiring additional zoning permits for the space.