US deports woman who hid her death camp past

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The Independent US

For 47 years, Elfriede Rinkel lived a seemingly blameless life in a rundown apartment in San Francisco. She was a first-generation German immigrant whose husband, Fred, was a German Jew who had fled the Nazis.

Together, they mixed easily in Jewish circles, attended synagogue and donated to Jewish charities. When Fred Rinkel died two years ago, his widow buried him in a Jewish cemetery, his gravestone adorned with the Star of David - with space for herself next to him.

This week, however, it transpired that the little old lady from the Tenderloin district harboured a secret she withheld from her husband, her family and the US authorities.

For the last year of the Second World War, Ms Rinkel - then known by her maiden name Elfriede Huth - worked as a guard and dog handler in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, not far from Düsseldorf. More than 130,000 women passed through the slave labour facility in six years, and more than two-thirds of them died - in gas chambers, medical experiments or from malnutrition and disease.

According to the US Justice Department, which has spent the past 27 years tracking down suspected former Nazi collaborators, Ms Rinkel's duties included using dogs to march inmates to work. "She was an integral part of the machinery of destruction and persecution," the chief of the Office of Special Investigations, Eli Rosenbaum, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Ms Rinkel's lawyer, Allison Dixon, painted a different picture, suggesting Elfriede Huth responded to a job advertisement because she needed the money. Ms Dixon told reporters that her client, now 84, never joined the Nazi party and regretted what she had done.

The Justice Department traced Ms Rinkel by comparing the employee rosters at Ravensbrück and other camps with immigration records. According to Mr Rosenbaum, she offered no expression of remorse at all when confronted.

Instead, she quietly went about preparing for deportation back to Germany, telling her friends and family there was a problem with her apartment building.

She is now living with a sister in Viersen, a short drive from the Ravensbrück camp. The German authorities have the option of trying her for war crimes, but it's more likely that her main punishment will be the embarrassment of having her past revealed.

Ms Rinkel's younger brother, who lives just outside San Francisco, told the Chronicle he had no idea about his sister's secret - he was fighting in the German army at the time and never knew what she was doing in 1944-45. "I just don't have any words," he said. "I don't have any feelings any more. I cannot accept it, let's put it that way."

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