Tampa Bay's Nazi secret
Accused war criminals lived among us.
"I came here to avoid you."
Sins of my father
Son unaware his father was a high-ranking official under Hitler.
"They're liars, they're deniers and they're distorters..."
Son of a Nazi joins the Israeli army.
From her home in St. Petersburg, 97-year-old Mary Wygodski is outspoken about the rise in neo-Nazism across Florida.
“The hate is now growing all over,” Wygodski said.
Content warning: Some of the imagery in this story may be disturbing to viewers.
While her life is now filled with children and grandchildren, there was a time when she had no family. During World War II, Wygodski’s entire family was rounded up by Nazis in Vilnius, Lithuania, and sent to die.
“I lost everybody. I lost my father, brother, two little sisters and my mother,” Wygodski said.
She vividly recalls the men who rounded up her family and the faces of those Nazis who became her neighbors in the Tampa Bay area.
“I knew all those people you showed me on the film," Wygodski said. “Now none of them is alive.”
Photos of Mary Wygodski and family
Tampa Bay's Nazi secret: Accused war criminals lived among us.
Tampa Bay has a haunting history of hatred.
Some of the men who carried out orders from Adolf Hitler found a refuge to retire in the Florida sun.
“We all retire here, the ones with blood on your hands and the ones who are innocent,” retired Department of Justice prosecutor John Loftus said. “When I was a prosecutor, about 10 percent of the Nazi war crimes cases in America came out of the Tampa Bay area.”
Some of those accused Nazi war criminals lived in Pasadena and St. Pete Beach. Among them is retired obstetrician Dr. Adolph Milius. Milius worked for the infamous Vilnius, Lithuania, security police.
“It was a unit of Jeffrey Dahmers,” Loftus said.
Fleeing prosecution: "I came here to avoid you."
In 1998, 10 Investigates was tipped that accused Nazi war criminals were being offered a deal by the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations. That deal involved admitting guilt and leaving America voluntarily.
In return, monthly Social Security checks were covertly sent to accused war criminals living overseas.
10 Investigates traveled to Lithuania to confront Milius about the secret checks. Investigative reporter Dave Wagner asked Milius if he came to Lithuania to avoid prosecution.
Milius responded angrily, “I came here to avoid you.”
Sins of my father: Son unaware his father was a high-ranking official under Hitler.
In North Miami Beach, you will find a family physician with an unorthodox past.
“My father will always be in my mind, the good, the bad and the ugly,” Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger said.
Wollschlaeger grew up in Bavaria, unaware his father was a high-ranking tank commander under the direction of Adolf Hitler.
“He deliberately killed Jews and he knew about the killing, murder of Jews and lied to me,” Wollschlaeger said. In return, the “Knight’s Cross” was personally pinned on Arthur Wollschlaeger by Adolf Hitler.
When Bernd Wollschlaeger questioned his father’s past, Arthur Wollschlaeger responded with an anti-Semitic rant.
“What we did as Germans, we cleaned up the dirt. We cleaned it all up so that your generation can live in a world without Jews,” Bernd Wollschlaeger recalls.
Dog whistle: "They're liars, they're deniers and they're distorters..."
Decades after his dad’s hateful rhetoric, Bernd Wollschlaeger recognizes the distressing “dog whistle” of neo-Nazis in Florida today.
An Anti-Defamation League Report confirms extremism and antisemitism are on the rise in the Sunshine State. In 2021, they reported 190 antisemitic incidents and 186 incidents of white supremacist propaganda in Florida.
Neo-Nazis gather in Tampa
In July, neo-Nazi demonstrators gathered outside a conservative youth summit in Tampa. They carried swastikas and used megaphones to shout slurs.
“They’re liars, they’re deniers and they’re distorters of the Holocaust. We must fight now as long as we can,” Wygodski said.
Conversion: Son of a Nazi joins the Israeli army.
For Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, the sins of his father would lead to a journey, not for atonement but toward Judaism.
“I thought conversion is the only way to show and demonstrate that I’m different,” he said.
Bernd Wollschlaeger converted to Judaism and joined the Israeli army. His father was enraged.
“He was enraged how it would affect the family, enraged that it tarnished his reputation. He actually called me a traitor, a dirty traitor. I was prohibited from attending his funeral,” Bernd Wollschlaeger said.
Arthur Wollschlaeger died in 1987 with his coffin surrounded by four soldiers of the German army. He never apologized for what he did.
“He actually did the opposite, insinuated Jews are not people,” Wollschlaeger said.
Bernd Wollschlaeger never reconciled with his parents but has made peace with his pedigree. He keeps one eye on the past and the other on the future of hate in Florida.
“My concern is and will be, what if it gets worse and worse? You have to face antisemitism. If intolerance will prevail, then goodbye, America,” Bernd Wollschlaeger said.