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Auschwitz survivor charges feds used 'Nazi tactics'

NEW YORK -- A concentration camp survivor arrested in 1986 on bribery charges and forced to sit near a blackboard bearing a Nazi slogan during questioning at the office of New York's former U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani recounted the 'horror' of his ordeal Friday.

The blackboard carried the phrase 'Arbeit Macht Frei,' which is German for 'Work Shall Set You Free' -- the same slogan posted over the main gate at Auschwitz, the concentration camp where Simon Berger was imprisoned 48 years ago.

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'I looked at the same writing that I saw at Auschwitz (and) I saw it all over again -- the horror that I had passed,' Berger, 62, told United Press International in a telephone interview Friday.

Berger's young brother and sister died at Auschwitz and his mother and two other sisters were killed in other concentration camps. His father was beaten to death by Nazis in the Lodz, Poland, Jewish ghetto.

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Berger's story, as recounted in a copyrighted article published in the New York Post Friday, was branded 'highly inflammatory' by Giuliani in a statement issued Friday.

Thecity's former top federal prosecutor, who resigned from his post in January to run for mayor, did not take issue with a similar story published Friday in New York Newsday.

New York Post editor Jerry Nachman, who co-authored the story, dismissed Giuliani's complaints. 'If you read the story and you read the release, he says the story was inflammatory. He doesn't say that it's wrong,' he said.

Berger, a locksmith from the Long Island town of Lido Beach, was arrested at home by federal officials Feb. 9, 1986, on charges he paid $13,000 in bribes to get a city Housing Authority contract to replace door locks at a Bronx housing project.

He was taken in handcuffs to the U.S. Attorney's Office, where authorities kept him in a hallway empty except for a chair that faced the blackboard, according to court papers opened Thursday.

After spending about five minutes sitting near the blackboard, Berger said he was taken to the office of an assistant U.S. attorney who interrogated him and tried to persuade him to cooperate with an investigation of the Housing Authority.

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He said the interrogation reminded him of wartime experiences, saying prosecutors used 'Nazi tactics.'

Berger, who was acquitted of the charges at a trial 11 months after his arrest, complained about the incident, prompting an investigation by former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zornow.

That probe found no evidence that the words had been written on the board to coerce Berger, Zornow said. In fact, he told Newsday his investigation determined that the slogan had been written on the blackboard weeks before Berger's arrest.

Berger expressed dissatisfaction with that probe Friday, saying he believed another investigation should be conducted into Giuliani's conduct.

'It was right under his nose ... . He (had) been entrusted with the law and what (had) he done with the law? He abused it,' Berger said.

Giuliani was quoted in the Post Friday as saying he knew nothing about the words on the blackboard until 'fairly recently ... perhaps several weeks ago,' and called the incident 'reprehensible.'

'If we found the person who did it, and that person was with a federal agency, I'm sure we would have fired them,' the Republican mayoral hopeful told the newspaper.

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