BERLIN - A "last chance" campaign to root out surviving Nazi
war criminals and bring them to justice before they die will be launched next
week in Germany, almost 70 years after the end of World War
Nazi-hunters have been encouraged by the prosecution last month in
Hungary of 98-year-old Laszlo Csatary for helping to deport Jews to Auschwitz
and by the arrest in Germany of Hans Lipschis, a suspected former guard at the
Auschwitz concentration camp.
"Operation Last Chance II" is the name
given to the Simon Wiesenthal Center's publicity campaign, which includes
putting up posters in big cities to enlist the help of the public in tracking
Rewards of up to 25,000 euros ($32,600) are on
On the striking poster is a black and white photograph of the
notorious "Gate of Death" at the Nazis' Birkenau extermination camp with the
train tracks leading up to it. The slogan "Late, but not too late" is emblazoned
"This is really it. We have two or three years maximum, that's
all," Efraim Zuroff, head of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center,
The hunt is no longer for high-level perpetrators of the
Holocaust, in which some 6 million Jews were murdered, but for thousands of
people who helped in the machine of death. Zuroff says some 60 individuals could
be alive and fit to go on trial.
"I don't imagine 60 people will be
brought to justice but every single one is a victory," he said. "It may be two
or three or five and there is no reason to forego these.
prosecution is an important reminder that justice for the victims of the
Holocaust can still be done," and advanced age did not diminish guilt, he
The impetus for a handful of new investigations came from the
landmark conviction in Munich in 2011 of Sobibor death camp guard John
Demjanjuk. He was the first Nazi war criminal to be convicted in Germany without
evidence of a specific crime or a victim but on the grounds that he was a guard
at a death camp.
Demjanjuk, a retired U.S. mechanic born in Ukraine, had
been taken prisoner by the Nazis when he was a Soviet Red Army soldier. He died
in March last year aged 91.
PATCHY RECORD The campaign posters, with a
hotline number for anyone with information, will be on show in Berlin, Hamburg
and Cologne in conjunction with outdoor advertising company WALL
"Germany has a well-developed consciousness of Nazi criminality. It
is one of the few countries where family members ring up with information on
relatives," said Zuroff.
The Center declined to say how much the campaign
cost, but said the funding came mainly from small, private donations.
its list of Most Wanted Nazi War Criminals is Gerhard Sommer, 92, a former
member of Hitler's SS suspected of being involved in the massacre of 560
civilians in Italy.
Another is Soeren Kam, who the Center says served as
an officer in the SS Viking Division and took part in the murder of a Danish
anti-Nazi newspaper editor. Germany has twice refused to extradite him to
Although an international military tribunal put some of the most
infamous Nazi leaders on trial soon after World War Two in the Nuremburg Trials,
Germany has a patchy record on bringing its Nazi war criminals to
In the last few years, however, prosecutors in some parts of
Germany have actively sought out some of the last survivors.
are keen to draw a line under the Holocaust and seal the post-war democratic
identity of their nation. To many, the spectacle of Demjanjuk being rolled into
court on a hospital bed was pathetic and some find it distasteful to pursue old
men, often in poor health, for crimes committed nearly 70 years
Others say that it is never too late and prosecution helps to fight
those who still engage in denial and distortion of the Holocaust.