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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Filed under: Germany
soundoff (317 Responses)
  1. who cares?

    Ever notice how it's always about the Jews? What about the other 5 million "undesirables" that got murdered? Where's their memorial. If the holocaust wouln't have been about the Jews we wouldn't talk about this 65 years later.

    October 6, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mrs. Right

    Its OK. Hitler and all who was under his authority will have to answer to a higher power on judgement day. Hell, you will have new tennants.

    October 6, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Morty Feinberg

    Leave it to Jewish Attorneys to want to seek out and prosecute 90 + year old people. Let it go already.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. cody franklin

    This is sad young men in Germany were given orders and they followed them to avoid death or judgement now all these Jews who probably weren't even alive can feel better about there sad lives wait i got an idea lets round up all the bomber pilots from ww2 and put them on trial for there carpet bombing of non military targets all across Germany, How many innocents died then??????? Im sick of the propaganda in this nation minister gobbles would be proud of all of you

    October 6, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ryan from Canada

    It was terrible thing that happened. I was born in the 70's and have heard about this all my life. I have read books to familiarize myself with the history (Rise and Fall of The Third Reich being the most detailed) but I am done with it. I was not alive at the time. My family moved to Canada in the late 1800's and despite my Mother's side being German, was not involved in either World War. In fact, my Grandfather objected to shooting anyone and was forced, because he was German, into a work camp for some of the war years. I count Jews as friends that feel like family but my generation is looking forward. I would feel differently if I was there but I would also feel differently if I witnessed pogroms in other countries at other times. I am lucky to live in this era and in this country.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. N

    Baked Scrod..I totally agree with you. I studied Genocide During WWII during college. We had a lot of occasions to visit the camps and to talk to many survivours (of all faiths..being politically correct) and the torture and experiment they endured were beyond belief. I read of an experiment Mengele sewed to babies back to back by the rectum to see what would happen. I believe all of them need to be eradicated......Thanks

    October 6, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. panangol

    Please note the concentration camps were German, not Polish.

    Please ensure your style guide has an appropriate entry

    October 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. rene

    They should start with Darth Cheney and Karl Rove.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • sonic10158

      you must have had an extra glass of kool aid today

      October 6, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Excuse me

    Who is opening up investigations into the IDF or the crowd that defaced the Mosques. Why do we always perform unnatural acts for the Jews??????

    October 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Old Fool

      Because the Jews have performed unusual acts for you. You should listen to the stories of survivors. If it doesnt affect your life I believe you have little value to this world.

      October 6, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • sami

      These unnatural acts you speak of are for human beinngs, not just the Jews who were murdered. Not just the children who were murdered in the most unnatural of ways. There were millions of others, non Jews, murdered as well in unnatural ways. This is done for humanity.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. James

    no catholics were put to death in any way shape or form, have any of you yanks every been outside usa???
    bavaria is catholic for a start were it all started

    October 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stefan Komar

      Approximately 3 million Polish Catholics were murdered by the German Nazis! You should hit the history books.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • N

      Clergy Incarcerated in Dachau Camp

      Nationality Catholics Other creeds Total
      Poles 1,748 32 1,780
      Germans 411 36 447
      French 153 3 156
      Czechs, Slovaks 93 16 109
      Dutch 29 34 63
      Belgians 46 – 46
      Italians 28 – 28
      Luxemburgers 16 – 16
      Danes – 5 5
      Lithuanians 2 1 3
      Hungarians 3 – 3
      Stateless 1 2 3
      Swiss – 2 2
      Greeks – 2 2
      British 2 – 2
      Albanians – 2 2
      Norwegians – 1 1
      Rumanians 1 – 1
      Spaniards 1 – 1
      Totals 2,579 141 2,720

      Really...No Catholics???? Interesting...I guess these don't count, Right?

      October 6, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • N

      Total Catholic Clergy: 2, case you can't figure out the chart.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. James

    and its nothing to do with the catholics, just stupid yank zero knowledge is a joke... get a histroy book or a map of the world

    October 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stefan Komar

      Quite a few Polish Catholic priests were killed as well, approximately 20% of the total.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TJ

    I'm really trying to be sensitive in how I answer this since I'm only 30 years-old, but seriously what good does this do? Legal action's purpose is to deter and/or punish. There is no way that this is a deterrent so what good does it do to punish these old men?

    October 6, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Northof39

      Because as the old saying goes, "those who don't know history, are doomed to repeat it".

      October 6, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • AIPACisEvil

      Jewish special interests groups will continue to push the victim narrative in news, TV, politics, etc. to mitigate negative sentiment against the Zionist state and further their agenda. Black people pull the race card, Jews pull the holocaust card.

      October 6, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Heil

    There's no business like shoah business...

    October 6, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mitchell

    Who cares if they are guilty or not. They were wearing the German Uniform in WWII.
    Just execute them and throw them into a mass grave.

    It's not like they are humans, so who cares if they die?

    October 6, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kam

    I understand that after all these years it is something that a very sensitive subject to many, we know it happened and there are scars but what will, they should have done this sooner

    October 6, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
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