Chief Nazi-hunter and director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, is in Vienna to discuss the status quo in the pursuit of three alleged Nazi war criminals who are supposedly hiding in Austria.
Zuroff's visit is part of "Operation Last Chance" which was launched to hunt down and bring to justice Nazi war criminals before they die of natural causes. Operation Last Chance offers financial rewards in exchange for information leading to the arrest of those wanted for Nazi-era atrocities. It has been launched in Austria, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.
Zuroff spoke to high-level Austrian government officials to exchange information and to discuss possibilities for further action. On Tuesday, Zuroff met Austrian Justice Minister Karin Gastinger and he spoke to Interior Minister Liese Prokop Wednesday.
The case of Dr. Aribert Heim was first on the agenda. Heim served as a doctor in the Nordhausen concentration camp. He is currently being sought by the Austrian Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
As the second alleged Nazi war criminal, Milivoj Asner, is of Croatian nationality, it is unclear whether it is permissible by EU and Austrian law to turn him over to Croatia for trial.
In the case of Erna Wallisch, who was a guard in a Polish concentration camp, the possibility of putting her on trial is even more unlikely. She stood trial in the 1970s, before a clause for assisted genocide was added to the penal code and, according to Austrian law, assisted homicide is time-barred.
"Austria will do everything within the bounds of possibility to support 'Operation Last Chance,'" said an Austrian Justice Ministry spokesperson to The Jerusalem Post. "Naturally, there are strong emotions involved but there is a ratio between moral claims and legal possibilities. The existing laws to protect the defendant are also valid in the case of Nazi war criminals. We understand that this situation is unsatisfying for Mr. Zuroff, but hope he can be appreciative."
Before World War II, Austria was home to about 185,000 Jews, but an estimated 65,000 perished in the Holocaust.