Germany reopens hundreds of Nazi investigations
Nazi guard John Demjanjuk was convicted in Germany earlier this year.
October 5th, 2011
01:04 PM ET

Germany reopens hundreds of Nazi investigations

(Correction: An early version of this post included a reference to a "Polish death camp." It should have said "a Nazi death camp in Poland." CNN regrets the error.)

German prosecutors have reopened hundreds of investigations into suspected Nazi death camp guards, according to the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights organization founded by a camp survivor.

"Though this is late in the game, and those who would be targeted are very old, this is tremendously important," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper. "This signals that there is a new generation of prosecutors who want to take a fresh and serious look, and it means that the larger German bureaucratic machine is paying attention to the importance of finding these criminals."

Germany is making a move now because of an unusual and opportune precedent established by the May 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk, a guard at a death camp, Cooper explained. There was no direct evidence tying Demjanjuk to crimes, but prosecutors won a conviction on more than 28,000 counts of accessory to murder by demonstrating that he worked at the camp where deaths occurred.

Demjanjuk was deported from the United States in 2009 to stand trial in Germany, appearing in court wearing dark eyeglasses and a baseball hat. Demjanjuk has filed an appeal of his conviction. Because of his age and the unlikely flight risk he posed, he was freed but returned to prison in May, prompting German prison officials to search for a short-term nursing home for him.

"Practically speaking, you might have once had thousands of cases, but now you have maybe hundreds [of suspects]," Cooper said. "Factor in advanced age and illness, and then [consider] whether they [suspects] would be capable of defending themselves at trial. The number goes down significantly [of those who could be prosecuted]."

Not all prosecutions have been successful. In July, a Hungarian court acquitted a 97-year-old - accused of being one of the world's most wanted Nazi war suspects - because of lack of evidence.

But even a few convictions will be symbolically important, the rabbi said, and reinforced the words of Simon Wiesenthal who escaped from a camp in 1943. Wiesenthal lost 89 members of his family in the Holocaust, according to the Center's website. "Each trial is an inoculation against hatred," Cooper repeated Wiesenthal's words.

Cooper said that the Wiesenthal Center has a researcher based in Germany dedicated to tracking down former Nazis who communicates with German authorities. And the Center's head Nazi-hunter, Efraim Zuroff, is conducting a campaign called "Operation Last Chance" targeted toward rooting out Nazis in hiding. Read a profile of Zuroff.

The Center, however, is not working with German authorities on the newly opened investigations.

"We certainly would like to help," Cooper said.

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soundoff (317 Responses)
  1. Cult of Personality

    Personally, I don't care if they're 97-years old or 110-years old – ANY and/or ALL nazi "monsters" that played a role in the most horrific tragedy ever, the Shoah, need to be, not only brought to justice, but sentenced to DEATH for their part in the attempted annihilation / extermination of the European Jewish people !! I know as I am the child of Holocaust Survivors !!!! It's NOT FUN growing up in a world with no surviving family members !!!!

    October 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • usmcdevil08

      You have the right to feel the way you do, but come on. The guy and others responsible are 85+ years old or dead. Its a waste of peoples time to go to court on a case of a man who doesnt have much time left on his life as it is. Its also a waste of time hunting these people down, its been 70 years? 99% of them did not even have a choice in where and what job they had to do. Blame Hitler.

      October 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • X

      Didn't have a choice? Learn some history buddy. A Nazi solider could choose wether to serve at the death camps or not.

      October 5, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cythara

      The holocaust is a Communist/Zionist lie perpetrated at the end of WW2 to punish the Germans for interrupting Communist plans to conquer the world, themselves in the 1940s. German fought a pre-emptive war to stop and destroy them. Because the majority of the Communists were Jewish, they concocted the scheme to provide false evidence at Nuremburg in the same way they provided false evidence of the killing of Polish Officers by the KGB. It was in the Zionist interests to capitalize on these lies and they have been doing so ever since as a 'get out of jail free' card for any atrocity or international crime discovered. It is just propaganda crap.

      October 17, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    It is too bad that European countries dragged their feet so badly in previous decades. It would have been better to deal with many of these people when they were younger.

    October 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. saywhat

    Great. Europe has no other problems facing them. The financial & fiscal mess jepardizing the Union and threatening the economic structure of the entire world inclusive of US. is no big deal
    I'm sure this is one of the tcatics which politicians always have up there sleeves, to divert attention from real issues.

    October 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bimbo the Birthday Clown

      Are you saying that the human species is only capable of handling one project at a time?

      October 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. k

    yea when they know all of them are gonna be dead soon, they will make a 1/2 a** attempt to make believe like they are going after them, for the last 60 years they did their best to protect them

    October 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. saywhat

    What human species is capable of has been demonstrated time & again to the embarrassement of humanity.
    We are seeing human species handling multiple projects here in our own beloved US of A 'very well' to the betterment of Americans. The mess of our own making abroad & at home. Yes the species is capable of making multiple messes but handling projects in the order of priority is another matter.
    This 'project' in the current crises facing Europe is nothing more than a distraction.

    October 5, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sindhi

    Yeah also reopen dialogues to return back all Jews back to Germany from Palestine.

    October 5, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cult of Personality

      @ Sindhi – Open a history book sometimes, idiot – You might learn something – Palestine was never owned / controlled by the Palestinians, but rather, it was always under British occupation and control. The Jewish people have every right to their very own homeland in addition to defending themselves against Palestinian terrorists (a.k.a. – Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc.).

      October 5, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bimbo the Birthday Clown

      Including the millions of Jews who were born in Israel? And what if Germany doesn't want them? And what if they don't want to go someplace where they have no historic connection, and don't speak the language.

      Normally I don't respond to trolls, but you are a special kind of troll with swiss cheese brain.

      October 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • yada

      @ Cult of Personality, You go girl! (Or guy.) Both posts are great! I like how you are not afraid to speak your mind and your posts are intelligent and meaningful. So sorry for the grief and despair you've suffered from losing family members in that Hellish Holocaust!

      October 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • breeze6843

      The ultra-orthodox Jews, who cares where they go, they are just as worthless as the ultra-islamic terrorists. They are the reason behind the violence. To the other Jews and Muslims caught up in this mess, you have my sympathy.

      October 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cythara

      @Cult of personality. You are the idiot. You and your fruitloop Zionist propagandists seriously expect people to believe 'there were no Palestinians in Palestine, prior to Jews moving in! Mark Twain, himself wrote about Palestinians in the 1860s in his book 'Innocents Abroad'. The thing that is so galling about all this is, you know you are telling lies. Most other people all know you are telling lies. Your lies don't even make sense and when shown how absurd they are, you turn around and 'tell the same lie'. The only people that do things like that are people who are following 'some plan'. O like, say, a Cabal. Why would SO MANY people continue to spout the same absurd lie if not some kind of Cabal? Well shades of Protocols of the Elders of Zion! It is like a page from the book Jews say, 'does not exist'; just like the Mafia tells you 'there is no mafia'.

      October 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Witold Lawrynowicz

    Germany is making a move now because of an unusual and opportune precedent established by the May 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk, a guard at a Polish death camp, Cooper explained.

    There were no "Polish death camps". Germans run concentration camps in General Guvernament from 1941 to 1945, at a time Pland was occupied by Nazi Gernmany. There are only museums and monuments in Poland. CNN should learn history.

    October 5, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Anna

    There were no Polish Death Camps, only German Death Camps on Polish soil.

    October 5, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Semper Fidelis

      But being mainly anti-semitic, they certainly had no problem with the camps. That makes them willing accessories.

      October 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stefan Komar

      To Semper Fidelis
      Newly created Poland, devastated by WW I, accepted 500,000 Jews escaping the civil war in Russia and gave them automatic citizenship. The United States could not accept one boatload of Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany. The proportions are very telling, yet you persist in spreading lies you can only support with an unbelievable and irrelevant anecdote. How many of the three million Polish ethnics killed by the Germans in the same way the Jews were killed antisemitic? How were they complicit when they were killed themselves? Were the families of the 3 million Polish ethnics complicit in the killing of their family members? Was that because of their alleged antisemitism? You have no clue, and your sweeping generalizations make you out to be no more than a bigot yourself! You are also spreading Soviet propaganda, which was then disseminated by Communist loyalists in this country such as David Maltz, Alger Hiss, John Lawson and many of their "useful idiots.". The camps were German – don't try to change history.

      October 6, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  9. yada

    Yes, find the SOBs and may justice be done!

    October 5, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jim Przedzienkowski

    The statement 'Polish death camp' is inaccurate as it relates to WWII. The Nazi Germans established the 'death camps' on occupied Polish soil. They were not Polish as stated in the article. Please correct the mistake.

    October 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Semper Fidelis

      Sorry but the Poles were fully compicit in the Holocaust. They were anti-semitic before, during and after WW. And some most certainly still are.
      A Pole was taking a great friend of mine around Krakow recently. She spoke to him generally about Jews. He was horrified at the mention of the word and said that he was proud to say he had never even TOUCHED a Jew.

      When she got out of the car she shook his hand and said "Congratulations – you just touched your first Jew. His face said it all.

      October 5, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. banasy©

    I respectfully disagree, saywhat.
    I don't see this as a diversion, I see this as a long-overdue fight for the families of those who perished by Germany's hand, (and I am one of them) to find some measure of justice and closure.
    To call it a 'distraction' is rather taking away from the suffering of generations.
    Justice has no time limitations; humanity needs to remember past crimes, or they *will* be repeated.

    October 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. PrzemoN

    Polish death camps????
    What an invention is it?
    I know that special versions of history books are produced for children in several strange countries, like... Try to guess.

    October 5, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. George Patton

    I'm surprised that a lot more right-wing politicians including the Republicans and their Tea Party henchmen aren't trying to deny that holocaust ever existed in the first place. After all, their ideology matches that of the Nazis to a tea since both are right-wing and full of hate!!!

    October 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Forever

      that sounds pretty hateful to me.. must be the pot calling the kettle black..

      October 5, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. saywhat

    @ banasy

    Thanks. I'm genuinely saddened to hear of the suffering your family had to endure during the Nazi rule. i do not mean to detract from the horror of that period.

    October 5, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Paul

    The camp was as Polish as Guantanamo is Cuban. CNN hires some deeply retarded people it seems.

    October 5, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
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