Thirty-eight years ago, Ukrainian-born Fedor Fedorenko slipped into the United States in the aftermath of World War II. When he applied for a visa, he failed to tell US authorities that he had spent two years as an armed guard at the Nazi death camp of Treblinka in Poland.
This week, the past caught up with the 73-year-old Florida retiree, who became a US citizen in 1970. The US Supreme Court, ruling 7 to 2 on Jan. 21, stripped Mr. Fedorenko of his citizenship for lying about his Treblinka activities, which would have automatically forbidden him entrance to this country under the Displaced Persons Act.
In its first ruling on a naturalized citizen accused on a Nazi crime, the high court has issued a clear message that it will not allow the "illegal or fraudulent procurement of citizenship," as stated by Associate Justice Thurgood MArshall in the majority opinion.
Speaking for the court, Justice Marshall said that despite the fact that Fedorenko has lived an upstanding life in this country, he had entered this country under false pretenses, and "naturalization that is unlawfully procured can be set aside."
"That was the decision we had argued for," said Allen A. Ryan Jr., director of the office of special investigations for the US Department of Justice. He predicted that the Justice Department would immediately seek Fedorenko's deportation.
Phil Baum, associate executive director of the American Jewish Congress, called the ruling a major victory. Noting that lower courts had been divided over the issue of revoking citizenship, he said: "This makes it plain that when you lie about matters of this nature, you cannot profit from that lie."
Associate Justices Byron White and John Paul Stevens dissented separately. Justice Stevens called the ruling "depressing" and charged that it would endanger other naturalized citizens, including Jews, who may have been forced to assist Nazis in concentration camps.
In other action, the Supreme Court:
* Upheld a ban on plastic nonreturnable milk bottles in Minnesota challenged by the dairy industry. The industry charged that the ban violated the Constitution's equal protection clause because plastic containers are forbidden, but not cardboard cartons.
* Ruled that members of a border patrol had reason to suspect a crime when they searched a truck and found Mexican nationals trying to come into the us illegally. The patrol had found a series of footprints in the area, indicating trafficking in illegal aliens.
* Decided that if a company pledges stock to a bank as collateral for a loan, that action is an "offer or sale" of that security under federal law.