70 Years Later, German Prosecutors to Hold Nazi Death-Camp Guards to Account

The events of the Holocaust seven decades ago are starting to fade from living memory, but the wheels of justice are still turning

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REUTERS/Peter Andrews

Barbed-wire fences at the former Auschwitz -Birkenau death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on January 27, 2010

The events of the Holocaust nearly seven decades ago are starting to fade from living memory, but the wheels of justice are still turning.

Der Spiegel reports that Germany’s Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes has obtained a list of 50 former Auschwitz guards from the museum at the Auschwitz memorial site. The department is also tracing guards at other death camps in a late — and possibly final — push to bring the surviving perpetrators of the Holocaust to justice.

Before trials of those identified on the list can begin, however, the Central Office will have to find out which, if any, are still fit to stand trial. All of those identified on the list are in their 90s, Kurt Schrimm, the head of the Central Office told Der Spiegel.

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Schrimm and his colleagues have been able to broaden the scope of their investigation following the successful trial of Ukrainian-American John Demjanjuk, a former guard at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland. Demjanjuk’s case, which took place in 2011 in Munich, set a new legal precedent for prosecuting accused Nazi war criminals: abetting a war crime also applies to those who were not directly involved in a killing, like guards. The case also lowered the legal threshold for winning a conviction so long after World War II.

For some, though, there is a moral dilemma in putting people of such advanced age on trial. “As perpetrators are so old and frail, the discussion then turns into a question of whether it’s morally acceptable to try people who have been carried in on stretchers into a courtroom,” historian Thomas Weber of the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland, said to the New York Times.

However, for Schrimm and his colleagues, seeking justice trumps such questions of possible ethical dilemmas. “My personal opinion is that in view of the monstrosity of these crimes, one owes it to the survivors and the victims not to simply say ‘a certain time has passed, it should be swept under the carpet,’” Schrimm told Der Spiegel.

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9 comments
whatt?
whatt?

That's 25,567 days and nights. I wonder how many nights they didn't sleep because of what they did. I think it should still be tried. Sleep or no sleep.

czydiamond
czydiamond

@whatt? 

Wonder how many of them are still secretly proud of their actions. 

AndreChatvick
AndreChatvick

The frustrating thing about prosecutions of these surviving camp guards for crimes against humanity carried out during WWII is that it has taken so long to bring them before a court.  These men and women should have been prosecuted in the immediate aftermath of the war, however, in the case of the great many, they simply went home after the war, or were allowed to migrate to other countries.  It wasn't as if the Nazis didn't keep  records of who served in the camps, because they did, and those records were captured by the Allies at the end of the war.  I would like to see the surviving politicians and bureaucrats who allowed the searches for the war criminals to lapse to also face the war crimes courts.

sharonghlc
sharonghlc

70 years to late - there probably already all dead !!! did everyone know Hitler was a Jew?

mrxexon
mrxexon

So when are they going to round up the Jews that were also in the nazi military?

We never hear about that, do we? Talk about sweeping something under the carpet...


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ThomasWeber
ThomasWeber

It is nice to be quoted in this article but I am quoted out of context. My point however is not that there is a moral dilemma here but that new Auschwitz trials are likely to end in a fiasco and that there are better ways to try ageing Holocaust criminals than using normal courts. This is why advocate the establishment of Truth Commissions for Holocaust-era war crimes and crimes against humanity.

JimDunbar
JimDunbar

If Osama Bin Laden was 85, on a stretcher, ill and dying of a disease, still at large..it would be justice to put him on trial and execute.

These guards partially responsible for millions who were tortured and murdered.

MatthewWilliamMillett
MatthewWilliamMillett

Yeah, like the guards wouldn't have been killed if they disobeyed. Not saying they are all innocent, but some of them must have only done what they did out of fear.