Hunting Nazi war criminals
I have never encountered a case of a Nazi who expressed regret or remorse and was willing to confess to his or her crimes.
Suspected Nazi war criminal Csatary Photo: REUTERS
For the past 11 years, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has published an annual
report on the efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice all over the world.
The initiative started in 2002 in the wake of a query/suggestion by IBA reporter
Elli Wohlgelernter about a “Most Wanted” list of Holocaust perpetrators and
evolved into a comprehensive compilation of statistics on convictions and
indictments, as well as new and ongoing investigations, and a “report card”
which assesses the record of every country which is, should, or might be
involved in the issue, along with the requisite list of the most prominent
criminals at large who might still be alive and those most likely to be brought
to trial during the coming year.
In theory, we try to publish the
findings every Holocaust Remembrance Day, and that is why the report usually
deals with the “year” from April 1 until the March 31 before Holocaust
Remembrance Day, but invariably not all the government agencies which are
supposed to supply the pertinent information in response to our questionnaire
send their answers on time, and thus our full report is being issued this week
in conjunction with International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
past decade in which the report has been issued, it has fulfilled several
important functions. The first is obviously to document all the results being
achieved in the field.
Although the subject of Nazi war criminals gets
more than its share of media attention, relatively little is reported on the
majority of the cases, either because of the relatively low rank of the
defendants, or the venue of the trials (most cases in Eastern Europe are
routinely ignored by the major media outlets in Western Europe and North and
South America), unless a case has some sort of sensational component.
second purpose is to make clear to all the countries involved in the issue that
their activity, or more likely lack thereof, is being closely monitored and
publicized. An interesting example in this regard was the recent decisions by
Norway (in 2008) and Sweden (in 2010) to cancel their statutes of limitations on
cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity which prevented them
from investigating, let alone prosecuting, Nazi war criminals.
result, both countries received a failing grade in our reports year after year.
Unfortunately, the changes in the laws were not made retroactive and thus as far
as Norwegian and Swedish Nazi collaborators, and there were numerous cases of
local collaborators in both countries, especially in Norway which was occupied
by the Nazis, the issue is finished, but at least they will able to prosecute
criminals in more recent cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
IMPORTANT result is to prove that it is still possible to bring the perpetrators
of Holocaust crimes to justice.
In that regard, the statistics in our
latest report are illuminating.
From April 1, 2011 until March 31, 2012,
10 Nazi war criminals were convicted – nine in Italy and one in Germany – a
figure five times higher than that of the previous year.
Since we began
keeping statistics on this subject (from January 1, 2001 until March 31, 2012),
there have been 99 successful legal decisions against Nazi war criminals, and 89
new indictments filed, six during the previous year.
And although there
was a decline in the number of new investigations initiated, the number of
ongoing investigations as of April 1, 2012, was 1,138 in 10 different countries,
a figure which leaves room for guarded optimism that at least several additional
war criminals will be held accountable for their crimes in the coming
ALL OF the above clearly demonstrates that it is still possible to
bring Nazi war criminals to justice and in fact, the moral and judicial basis to
do so remain as convincing as ever and can basically be summarized as follows:
1. The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers. The fact
that they have hereto eluded justice does not alter their criminal
2. Old age should not afford protection for those who
committed such heinous crimes. The fact that a person reaches the age of 85 or
90 does not turn a murderer into a Righteous Gentile.
3. The obligation
of our generation to the victims is to make an honest effort to find their
killers, who murdered innocent civilians just because they were categorized as
“enemies of the Reich.”
4. The continued effort to bring Holocaust
perpetrators to justice sends the powerful message that if you commit such
terrible crimes, even decades later there will be those trying to find you and
make you pay for your crimes. Unfortunately, far too many of those who committed
the crimes of the Shoa escaped justice, which can only encourage and inspire
today’s neo-Nazis and anti- Semites.
5. The prosecutions of Nazi war
criminals, when conducted properly, are the best history lessons available and
an important tool in the fight against Holocaust denial, distortion and
AND IN conclusion, one last point. I am often asked whether
in view of the many years which have passed since they committed their crimes as
young men and women, the criminals are presently not sorry for what they
That is, in theory, an interesting question and one which could be
strengthened by the enormous amount of information currently available on the
Unfortunately, I have never encountered a Nazi who expressed
regret or remorse and was willing to confess to his or her crimes. In that
respect, these are the last people on earth to deserve any sympathy, since they
had none for their innocent victims.
On International Holocaust
Remembrance Day, that is an important message that should be internalized all
over the world.
The author is the chief Nazihunter of the Simon
Wiesenthal Center and director of its Israel Office. His latest book, Operation
Last Chance; One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice (Palgrave/
Macmillan) has been published in seven languages.