Austria to reopen case against Nazi concentration camp guard

Authorities had previously refused to prosecute Erna Wallisch, fourth most-wanted Nazi war criminal.

In a dramatic about-face, Austrian authorities have agreed to reopen the case of a long-sought suspected Nazi criminal who served as a guard at the Majdanek concentration camp, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said Sunday. Erna Wallisch, 85, who ranks fourth on the Wiesenthal Center's list of most-wanted Nazi war criminals, has been living in a small apartment on the bank of the Danube in Vienna with her name printed on the door. Austrian authorities had previously refused to prosecute her due to the statute of limitations, the organization's chief Nazi hunter and Israel Director Dr. Efraim Zuroff said. The Austrians agreed to reopen the case after the Polish Institute of National Remembrance uncovered five new witnesses, following lobbying efforts by the Wiesenthal Center to have the case reopened, he said. "This is a typical example of the lack of political will up until now to prosecute someone who was actively involved in the crimes of the Holocaust," Zuroff said. "It is high time that the case be taken seriously, as we are dealing with someone whose hands are full of [the] blood of innocent victims." About 360,000 people perished at Majdanek, which is located in a suburb of Lublin, Poland. Meanwhile, the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday, coinciding with the day Auschwitz was liberated. "Naturally, each of us will be preoccupied with his or her thoughts and with questions that, to this day, have not received answers that it is possible to live with," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. "Each one of us asks himself what US President George W. Bush asked when he visited Yad Vashem with us two weeks ago: Why weren't the railways bombed? Why wasn't existing international strength used to slow the pace of destruction?" At Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, a group of 120 teens from 62 countries around the world began a three-day youth conference about the Holocaust. The participants, who ranged in age from 17 to 19, included Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. On Monday, the European Parliament will hold an official event in Brussels commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. The event will include addresses by European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor and European Council for Israel chairman Helmut Specht. In New York on Sunday, Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman said that for the third year, the UN was keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust. "This year will be very emotional, since Zubin Mehta will be conducting a 90-member Israeli orchestra in the very same hall where Zionism was equated with racism, where Israel has been condemned and vilified. This is very important and significant and sends a clear message to the world that the UN and the international community [are] committed to the memory of the Holocaust. It is especially important [at a time] when a member state denies the Holocaust. This sends a very clear message to Iran that the world has not forgotten and it won't happen again." In Washington, meanwhile, US President George W. Bush issued a statement saying he had been deeply moved by his recent visit to Yad Vashem during his stay in Israel. "Sixty-three years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must continue to educate ourselves about the lessons of the Holocaust and honor those whose lives were taken as a result of a totalitarian ideology that embraced a national policy of violent hatred, bigotry and extermination. It is also our responsibility to honor the survivors and those courageous souls who refused to be bystanders, and instead risked their own lives to try to save the Nazis' intended victims," he said. "Remembering the victims, heroes and lessons of the Holocaust remains important today. We must continue to condemn the resurgence of anti-Semitism, that same virulent intolerance that led to the Holocaust, and we must combat bigotry and hatred in all forms, in America and abroad." Michal Lando contributed to this report.