Wiesenthal Center asks Spanish court to charge Nazis

Organization cites principle that war crimes can be prosecuted in country even if perpetrated abroad.

demjanjuk 224 (photo credit: AP [file])
demjanjuk 224
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Simon Wiesenthal Center and Spanish NGO Nizkor requested Monday that the Spanish government extradite four former Nazis, currently facing deportation from the United States, who allegedly murdered numerous Spaniards in concentration camps. For the past 50 years the four ex-SS officers - John Demjanjuk, a retired, 88-year-old auto worker in Ohio who is now also being sought by Germany, Johann Lepprich, Josias Kumpf and Anton Tittjung - have been living in the United States and were each discovered over the past decade by the special CIA unit which specializes in finding Nazi war criminals in America. The American courts could only evict the four former Nazis on immigration violations and have stripped the men of their American citizenships. The four criminals are currently waiting on American soil, as no country will accept them. Dr. Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter of The Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Gloria Trinidad, lawyer for Nizkor, have banded together in an attempt to get the Spanish court to try the four men. Both Zuroff and Trinidad are acting under Spain's principle of universal jurisdiction, which states that war crimes, crimes against humanity, terrorism and other violent crimes can be prosecuted in Spain even if committed elsewhere. During World War II, more than 7,000 Spaniards, mainly leftist Republicans and Jews, were murdered in Nazi concentration camps such as Mauthausen, Sachenshausen and Flossenberg, camps where all four men served. "The willingness of the Spanish authorities to prosecute these Nazi war criminals would be of great significance given the current impasse in their cases in the US," said Zuroff. "Furthermore, holding accountable guards from camps Mauthhausen, Sachenshausen and Flossenberg, where so many innocent Spaniards were murdered, would be a form of historic justice." On June 19, Nizkor filed the claim with the Spanish court, which is currently discussing whether or not the claim is valid. "It is vital that the Spanish Court goes through with the extradition of these four former Nazi SS officers," said Trinidad. "In Spain, the fact that many Spaniards died in Nazi concentration camps is not a well-known subject. If they decide to do the trial it will be a historical mark for Spain." A prosecutor needs to issue a nonbinding recommendation on whether the court should agree to study the case and, afterwards, the court itself has to decide whether to accept the case and consider filing charges, Trinidad said. If the lengthy process ends successfully, the lawsuit will be held on behalf of former Spanish prisoners and direct family members of former prisoners. "There are still so many former Nazis that are alive. People seem to think that they are all dead or it is a past matter but we cannot let these men's crimes fade," said Trinidad. "We need to make sure that the court and politicians prosecute Nazi criminals no matter what their age." The US Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of Demjanjuk last month. But while the US Justice Department noted that the refusal removes the last impediment to deporting Demjanjuk, it is unclear what country would be willing to take him. Demjanjuk was extradited from the US to Israel in 1986 and was sentenced to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 1993, however, after new evidence surfaced, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that there was reasonable doubt that Demjanjuk was 'Ivan the Terrible,' and he returned to the US, where the Justice Department continued efforts to revoke his citizenship on the grounds that he had served as a guard at death camps. AP contributed to this report.