Is Bernhard Frank a Nazi war criminal who should be extradited to Israel from Germany to stand trial for his role in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust, or is he merely an inconsequential former Nazi functionary accused of trumped-up charges by a fame-seeking filmmaker? Controversy surrounding Frank’s identity erupted on Monday when several lawmakers issued statements calling for the extradition of 97- year-old Frank, calling him the “highest-ranking Nazi war criminal alive, whose whereabouts only recently came to light.”

MK Ze’ev Bielski of Kadima, who raised the issue in the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee, called for his “immediate” extradition; MK Danny Danon of Likud said trying him was a “moral imperative”; and MK Avraham Michaeli of Shas showered praise on American Mark Gould, the self-appointed detective who brought the charges against Frank.

But Yad Vashem said later that day that Frank’s name did not appear in any “serious research about the Shoah.”

Efraim Zuroff, the Israel Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, went further, calling Gould’s claim that Frank was a Nazi war criminal an “old wives tale” and the politicians who called for his extradition “a bunch of ignoramuses.”

“In terms of criminality Frank is inconsequential,” Zuroff said. “Two things clearly show the flawed approach of the individuals’ initiative: One, that they didn’t turn to the Germans to prosecute him. Germany prosecutes war criminals in most cases and has had very impressive results in the past year. Two, all the research done on Himmler and he never even mentioned this Frank. Add to that that he’s living openly – they’re turning an ant into an elephant. Plus, the whole idea of launching a criminal lawsuit in New York. None of it fits.”

Gould, who is currently in Israel, insists that his allegations are accurate.

He told The Jerusalem Post he “stumbled” across Frank when he was living undercover as a neo-Nazi in Germany for the purpose of shooting a documentary. He said Frank’s signature was on several orders pertaining to the murder to Jews by the Nazis and that he had admitted on tape to committing war crimes against Jews.

But Yad Vashem, whose officials have reviewed Gould’s findings, did not corroborate his claims.

“We do not have information in our archives that point at Bernhard Frank being a high-level Nazi official,” it said in a laconic statement in response to an inquiry by the Post. “From among the serious research about the Shoah, Frank is unknown.”

Gould said in response that he had another meeting scheduled with Yad Vashem officials in which he would try to persuade them of Frank’s guilt. Either way, he said, it was not impossible for the institution to make a mistake.

“Things just keep appearing all the time,” he said. “I’m Mark, a guy from California who stumbled onto this. Yad Vashem can’t be everywhere at every time. The SS alone was a million people at one time. Were they all criminals? No. But what Frank did was a war crime.”

Meanwhile, Bielski defended his decision to raise the issue in the Knesset committee, saying he had seen Gould’s findings and believed the attorney-general needed to determine whether Frank should stand trial in Israel.

“If it turns out that he had nothing to do with the murder of the Jewish people then we rest out case,” he said.

“My job isn’t to make inquiries and fact-check but to raise issues I come across as an MK. If the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Yad Vashem convince the attorney-general that Frank was an unimportant official, then that’s fine by me.”

Zuroff, who has played an active role in bringing war criminals to trial, said the affair was detrimental to Israel and efforts to bring justice to the victims of the Nazis and their allies.

“Gould got his book contract and the film contract is not far away,” he said.

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