German prosecutors to prosecute dozens of former Nazis

Conviction of Jon Demjanjuk prompted the reopening of investigations against guards who worked in Holocaust extermination camps.

By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL IN BERLIN, GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
October 6, 2011 19:22
4 minute read.
Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk

John Demjanjuk 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Lukas Barth/Pool)

The criminal conviction of Nazi concentration guard John Demjanjuk in May prompted German prosecutors on Wednesday to reopen dozens of investigations and cases against guards who worked in the vast set of extermination camps during the Holocaust.

The German authorities announced the new prosecutions on Wednesday, according to media reports.

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The 91-year-old Ukranianborn Demjanjuk was deported from the US to Germany in 2009. A Munich court convicted him in May of 28,060 counts of accessory to murder for working as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Demjanjuk’s attorney has appealed the conviction.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Thursday hailed the decision by German prosecutors to open criminal investigations against dozens of former guards at Nazi concentration camps.

Efraim Zuroff, from the Wiesenthal Center, said he welcomed efforts to bring former guards to justice based on the precedent of John Demjanjuk, found guilty of being an accessory to murder for the time he was guarding Treblinka concentration camp.

Zuroff, who is widely considered to be world’s leading hunter of Nazis, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that “The Demjanjuk conviction has created the possibility to prosecute perhaps as many as several dozen Holocaust perpetrators who served in the most lethal Nazi installations and units, and basically spent as much as two years carrying out mass murder on practically a daily basis.

He added that “These were the persons who carried out the major bulk of the mass murder of European Jews during the Holocaust – practically half of the approximately six million Jewish victims.”

Kurt Schrimm, the head of the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Germany (Zentrale Stelle) said: “We don’t want to wait too long, so we’ve already begun our investigations,” according to a Guardian news report on Wednesday.

Zuroff, the Jerusalem-based Nazi-hunter, told the Post, “I met with Schrimm in mid- August to discuss the implications of the Demjanjuk trial for future prosecutions. My understanding was that in the wake of the verdict there was enormous potential for the prosecution of individuals who had served in the four ‘pure’ death camps – Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Chelmno – as well as in the Einsatzgruppen. Previously, the German prosecutors only brought cases in which they could find evidence of a specific crime with a specific victim, but in the wake of the Demjanjuk conviction, that no longer had to be the case.”

The Einsatzgruppen were mobile Nazi teams who engaged in the mass murder of Jews.

In response to the conviction of Demjanjuk and the new momentum in Nazi prosecutions, Zuroff said “On that basis I had decided to re-launch ‘Operation Last Chance’ with a focus on those persons, and discussed this project with Schrimm, who agreed with my analysis and said that the Zentrale Stelle was already working in that basis [even though there still was an appeal in the Demjanjuk case]. That conversation, and the cooperation agreed upon in Ludwigsburg, paved the way to the launching of our new project in Berlin within the next two months.”

Demjanjuk, a former US autoworker from Ohio, is currently free and living in Munich until his appeal works its way through the German courts.

Samuel Laster, a Viennabased journalist who knew the Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, told the Post on Thursday that “the prosecution of Nazi war criminals is a litmus test for the new Eastern European democracies, and a test and disgrace for Austria.”

The late Simon Wiesenthal conducted his global search to apprehend Nazi war criminals from his residence in Vienna.

Laster, who has written and reported about the existence of Nazi war criminals in central and Eastern Europe, said “criminals like Aleksandras Lileikis from Lithuania or the Croatian Milivoj Ashner died peacefully in their beds – and that is a disgrace for the countries of the perpetrators.”

In a June statement, Zuroff said, “The recent death of Milivoj Asner in Austria, unprosecuted for his crimes, is a travesty of justice which reinforces the total failure of the Austrian judicial authorities to adequately deal with the issue of Nazi war criminals during the past more than three decades.

Asner’s role in the persecution and death of hundreds of Serb, Jewish and Roma residents of the city of Pozega, Croatia, in his capacity as local Ustasha police chief was critical, and his criminal responsibility for their tragic fate is absolutely clear.”

According to an April 2010 Wiesenthal Center report on countries lacking the political will to bring Nazi criminals to justice, Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Great Britain, Netherlands earned a D grade, which means “insufficient and/or unsuccessful efforts” to prosecute and investigate freed Nazis.

The Wiesenthal report awarded Australia, Canada, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania and Ukraine a low mark, in “category F-2,” for their “failure in practice.”

The report wrote F-2 means “Those countries in which there are no legal obstacles to the investigation and prosecution of suspected Nazi war criminals, but whose efforts (or lack thereof) have resulted in complete failure during the period under review, primarily due to the absence of political will to proceed and/or a lack of the requisite resources and/or expertise."


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