On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember that quest for justice continues

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we should remember that the quest for justice continues, and should never be abandoned as long as any of the perpetrators can be held accountable.

German police 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
German police 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Last week, prosecutors in Kassel, Germany announced that they had opened an official investigation against HW, who had served in Einsatzgruppe C, the unit which carried out the mass murder of the Jews of Kiev on September 29-30, 1941, at Babi Yar, the largest individual massacre during the Holocaust. This was ostensibly a mundane news item – not all that unusual in Germany these days, where a dramatic change in German prosecution policy a decade ago has produced three successful prosecutions of death camp operatives and more recently additional indictments against more than a dozen concentration camp guards.
Yet this news is of unique significance and potential. For the first time in decades, there is a chance that one of the members of the notorious Einsatzgruppen (special mobile killing squads) A, B, C and D, which murdered approximately 1.5 million Jews in the areas of the Soviet Union (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, eastern Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia) will be brought to trial in Germany.
This too is a result of the change in German prosecution policy, but for reasons unknown to us, the only persons hitherto prosecuted were from Sobibor (Demjanjuk) and Auschwitz (Groening and Hanning). This situation was, frankly, difficult to understand, and we were unable to obtain any clarifications from the German judicial authorities. It seemed almost impossible that none of the at least 3,000 men and women who had served in the killing squads were still alive anywhere in the world.
So I decided to check our archives to try to identify potential suspects who might still be alive. We had the names of 1,293 persons who had served in the Einsatzgruppen, and dates of birth for 1,069 of them. These latter names were checked and a list was compiled of 76 men and four women who were born in 1920 or later, which was sent on September 1, 2014, to the German ministers of justice (Heiko Maas) and the interior (Thomas de Maziere). In other countries it might have been possible to determine whether these persons were alive, but the very strict laws of personal data protection in Germany made it impossible for us to obtain the necessary information.
About a year-and-a-half later, the German agency which investigates Nazi war crimes responded that eight names were of interest, and asked for additional details, which we provided. But we did not receive any updates for many months, and we ultimately partnered with Kontraste, an investigative program of German TV station ARD, to determine which of these persons were still alive. Sure enough, at least two of them were found alive and healthy, living in Germany.
HW is one of them, and I hope and pray that his good health will continue so that he can be brought to justice. The same applies to anyone else who served in the notorious Nazi death squads that, with the help of local collaborators, murdered so many Jews.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we should remember that the quest for justice continues, and should never be abandoned as long as any of the perpetrators can be held accountable.
The author is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel office and Eastern European affairs. His most recent book, Masa im haOyev (Yediot Sefarim), was published a month ago and deals with the complicity of Lithuanians in Holocaust crimes.