(photo credit: Courtesy)
Canada's long and exacting extradition process may soon conclude with only the second Nazi war criminal it has ever extradited.
If a current appeal to the Canadian Supreme Court fails, which knowledgeable sources believe it will, Michael Seifert, 83, could be on his way to an Italian prison in less than six months.
Seifert, a Vancouver resident for five decades, stands accused of raping, torturing, starving and murdering inmates at the northern Italian Nazi prison camp of Bolzano from late 1944 to April 1945. An Italian military court convicted him in absentia of nine murders.
Following an extradition request from Italy in 2003, Seifert has been fighting against extradition in the Canadian legal system.
In 2003, British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Selwyn Romilly committed Seifert to be extradited to Italy.
The case went before then-justice minister Irwin Cotler, who upheld the extradition in December 2005. This led Seifert to turn to the British Columbia Court of Appeal with the claim, among others, that Cotler's background as a Jewish human rights activist created a reasonable concern that his decision was motivated by bias against the former SS guard.
Two weeks ago, the Court of Appeal finally ruled that Seifert could be extradited. Seifert's lawyer, Doug Christie, plans to request an appeal to the Canadian Supreme Court.
The Canadian Jewish Congress has reacted with satisfaction at the latest ruling.
"The fact that Mr. Seifert managed to evade justice for over 60 years does not entitle him to any special treatment," said the organization's Pacific Region chairman Gerry Cuttler. "To the contrary, the time he has spent as a free man in Canada only serves to highlight that each of his victims were denied their right to life for all of these years. As the courts of Italy and Canada have made clear, justice requires that Mr. Seifert serve his sentence for the crimes he committed."
Seifert "was known for his cruelty. He was called the 'Beast of Bolzano,'" said Israeli historian and veteran Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, who tracks such cases worldwide. "He apparently took delight in torturing the prisoners of the camp. He was notorious."
Seifert is accused by the Italian government of a long list of brutal acts, including gouging the eyes of an inmate, raping and torturing women and severely beating prisoners for no discernible reason and without orders. While he admits to having served as a guard at Bolzano, Seifert has consistently denied having committed the acts attributed to him, some of them by Bolzano camp survivors.
This case is significant not only for Canada, Zuroff said, but also for Italy.
"One of the most positive developments in the last 10 years in the field of Nazi hunting has been the renewed interest of Italian prosecutors in attempting to bring to justice people who committed crimes in Italy during WWII," he said.
Zuroff compiles the annual Simon Wiesenthal Center report on Nazi hunting. According to his findings, "just in the last two years, Italian prosecutors have convicted 25 perpetrators. All 25 have been tried in absentia, since they're Germans and Austrians whose extradition is forbidden by local laws. And all the cases involve the mass murder of Italian civilians - they have no connection to the events of the Shoah."
But, Zuroff added, "[the prosecutors'] activities are still a
very positive development. If these people murdered innocent civilians, certainly they should pay for this, whether it was Jews they murdered or not."
The Bolzano prison was a way point in which Nazi authorities kept political dissenters, deserters' families, Jews, Italian partisans and others. Some would die at Bolzano, while others were transferred northward to Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen and other concentration and death camps.