updated 10/1/2007 6:59:23 PM ET 2007-10-01T22:59:23

Federal authorities have begun deportation proceedings against an 85-year-old suburban Atlanta man who they say served as a Nazi guard and trained and handled attack dogs at the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps.

The Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security allege Paul Henss, a German citizen who lives in Lawrenceville, about 30 miles northeast of Atlanta, entered the U.S. in 1955 after hiding his concentration camp service.

The Department of Justice announced the action against Henss on Monday; federal authorities filed an immigration document making the allegations Sept. 4.

On Monday, in his driveway in a tidy, middle-class neighborhood where the streets are named after tennis stars, Henss said he had been an SS soldier and had trained German shepherds and Rottweilers during World War II, but he angrily denied being a war criminal.

"I didn't commit no crimes," Henss said in a thick German accent. "I didn't hurt nobody. Otherwise I wouldn't have come to the United States."

Henss called the Holocaust "a catastrophe" and said: "Everybody in Germany knows that wasn't right."

According to federal authorities, Henss joined the Hitler Youth organization in Germany in 1934 as a 12- or 13-year-old boy and joined the Nazi Party in 1940.

He entered the Waffen SS in 1941 and volunteered the following year to become an SS dog handler, serving from 1942 to 1944 at the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps in Germany, the immigration document states.

Dogs trained to 'tear prisoners to pieces'
There, Henss instructed other guards in the use of trained attack dogs to guard prisoners and prevent their escape, and personally guarded prisoners and forced-labor details to prevent escapes, authorities allege.

SS regulations during Henss' time of service said dogs were to be trained "to 'bite without mercy' and to literally tear prisoners to pieces if they attempted to escape," the document states.

Henss admitted in a sworn statement March 13 that he served as an SS guard at Dachau and Buchenwald for two to three months each as a dog handler, according to the charging document.

On Monday, he acknowledged training dogs but said he fought in Russia and never set foot inside Dachau or Buchenwald.

"The training of dogs was no crime," Henss said with his wife sobbing next to him outside their well-kept one-story brick house. "I was not training them to hurt people."

Henss said that when he came to the U.S. 33 years ago, he did not tell immigration officials about his military service in Germany and was not asked.

"I forgot about the war," he said. "I wanted to leave the war behind me."

After coming to America, he worked in the packing industry, he said. He added that he does not know why his wartime service is being questioned more than six decades later.

No government charges to be filed
A message left Monday for Henss' attorney, Douglas Weigle, was not immediately returned.

The deportation case was filed after a review of German records, prosecutors said. Jaclyn Lesch, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the government does not plan to file criminal charges against Henss.

Henss is hard of hearing, has had some heart problems and uses a walker. He said he has lived in Georgia for 10 years.

"We couldn't even imagine that Mr. Henss could do that," said Nuzzu Syed, who lives two doors down. "They're such a nice, elderly couple."

The Office of Special Investigations, which handles cases against people accused of being former Nazis, began operations in 1979. Authorities said it has won cases against 106 participants in Nazi crimes.

Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter, said in a telephone interview from Israel that it probably took decades to identify Henss' alleged connection to the Nazis because of the time necessary to obtain records.

"There were so many perpetrators, so many people who played a role, it takes a very long time to carry out a comprehensive ... reference of all of the individuals who in any way participated in the crimes of the Holocaust," he said.

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