CHICAGO -- The U.S. government turned Frank Walus' American dream into a four-year nightmare when it falsely accused him of Nazi war crimes -- including murder -- and convicted him of lying to cover a Gestapo past.
Then, in November 1980, the government told Walus it was all a mistake and to forget it.
'How can I forget such a thing?' the retired factory worker said in a recent interview in his modest bungalow on Chicago's West Side where he had been working quietly for the election of Chicago's first Jewish mayor. 'It was a terrible nightmare.'
Understandably, Walus is bitter.
He blames his ordeal on the U.S. courts, the Israeli police and the press. He also blames Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter who is based in Vienna. Walus even blames his mother-in-law, whom he suspects of being the first to accuse him falsely.
Walus, now 61, was stunned when the U.S. government accused him in January 1977 of having committed atrocities as a Gestapo agent in Poland during World War II.
He heard Jewish survivors of the Nazi occupation of Poland testify in federal court that they saw him murder children, an old woman and even a hunchback.
The court found him guilty of lying to cover his past and gain entry into the United States. It stripped him of his citizenship.
Two years after his conviction, when deportation seemed imminent, a court of appeals ordered a new trial which it said 'almost certainly' would clear Walus. Nine months after that, charges against him were dropped.
'They told me they made a mistake,' he recalled. 'They told me I was not the person who did those things. They apologized. They told me to forget about it.'
Walus tells all who will listen, as he told the court, that he was working on labor farms in Germany during the years -- 1939 to 1943 -- the crimes described by the Jewish witnesses were committed. Federal Judge Julius Hoffman, 85, who presided at the Chicago Seven trial in 1969, ruled that Walus won American citizenship by hiding a Nazi past.
The case against Walus, a Pole born in Germany, was dropped when attorneys dug up evidence that he had indeed been in Germany during the time in question.
They also proved the Gestapo did not accept Poles, particularly ones asshort as Walus, who stands only 5-feet-4.
Walus, despite his brush haircut, looks not at all like Hollywood's version of a Nazi war criminal.
'My neighbors treated me terribly,' he recalled. 'They called me Nazi, Gestapo. They threw rocks at me.'
Walus said he no longer gets letters and telephone calls threatening his life but the cost of his legal defense ruined him financially. He lives quietly in retirement with his wife and one of his four children.
He said he has not seen his mother-in-law, who used to live in his home, since his ordeal began.
'Whenever I talked in German on the telephone, she would call me a Nazi,' he said. 'She turned me in. When she left she told me the Jews would put a rope around my neck but I wasn't worried then.'
Walus said it was Wiesenthal and the Israeli police who helped build the false case against him. He blamed the press for portraying him to the world as a war criminal.
Walus had a sign in his window urging the election of Bernard Epton, the Republican who sought to become Chicago's first Jewish mayor. Epton was defeated by Harold Washington, elected April 12 as Chicago's first black mayor.
The man who lost and regained his citizenship and his vote said, 'Some people still think I hate Jews.'