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. Northof39

    Germany still has not come to terms with the Nazi era & concentration camps. Any mention of this to Germans will prompt a quick change of topic, so it's no wonder they are opening up investigations now, as 99.99% of the perpetrators of war crimes are all dead. C'est la vie. Germany wants to be a leader in the EU & has to be seen as cleaning up it's past a little.

    October 6, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Wildone

    Kurt Waldheim should be tried and found guilty of NAZI war crimes post mortem.

    October 6, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Susan from Canada

    I was born in Germany and my family is from Germany as well. I do believe justice should be served, but growing up being labelled a nazi eventhough our family had nothing to do with it was hard and has left me very jaded. Most of these nazi soldiers are either dead or very old. Every time this is brought up, it angers me that a lot of this is propaganda and had nothing to do with the whole "justice" thing. Thank you.

    October 6, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. I am eye

    I do understand that this was a horrible tragedy but I have a question. Do they have a date set as to when they will stop looking for these criminals? Most of them are probably pretty old by now. And when they find them all, then what is planned?

    October 6, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • N

      It will stop when they who did these crimes and Nazism (Neo or not) in general are dead. But until we have people who have enough intelligence and humanism fighting Nazism will be on going. When I was in college, I studied the Holocaust. I told of one of the experiments in my earlier posts. But one of the saddest was when I visited Auschwitz. There was a very old woman sitting on a bench where she came to sit everyday. It was strange because most survivors had left the area right after the war. She lived rather close to the camp also, which I thought strange. When I asked her why she came everyday, she replied that in the span of one week she had lost 38 members of her family and this was the only place she could come to be close to them. Try to imagine...38 members of your family, Nanas, Grampas, Aunts, Uncle, Cousins, Siblings, Mom and Dad. It is for those who still remember that we need to find these people...I don't give a s–t how old they are.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John Gabriel

    The Jews were guilty of systematically destroying Germany, which is what made Hitler retaliate with overwhelming force.

    The lesson for the Jews is this: when you are in a strange country, keep a low profile because you may find yourself in hot water again. Although I have nothing against most Jews, I would love to see Senator Lieberman hung for treason against the people. It was he who prevented the public option. Could it have something to do with him being Jewish or is it just coincidence?

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

      "Strange country? Many of the Jews carted off to concentration camps lived in communities that were over 600 years old. They were not strangers. And it was the process of losing WWI that destabilized German society, not anything that the Jewish people did. BTW, Germany was not "systematically destroyed." It is alive and well.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • spocksbrain

      What a piece of work you are. "I have nothing against most Jews..." Yet you are so obviously a rabid antisemitic, self worshiping cretinous slimebucket it makes a normal person want to vomit on their keyboard. Almost makes me rethink my Liberal position and dislike for Lieberman.

      October 6, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      It's a sad state of affairs that a country is going after its own military veterans. If you say the Jewish elite had nothing to do with the mess Germany was in, your also sadly mistaken, that doesn't make genocide okay tho. Also, the holocaust was far from the only the genocide going on in that time. The USSR actively committed genocide against Christians and many more millions died. If you think otherwise you need to brush upon your history, brush up on your US history, read Gen. Patton's memoirs.

      October 7, 2011 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  6. Stefan Komar

    CNN needs to change its stylebook to help prevent future references to the German camps as "Polish".

    October 6, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Stephano

    Hi Mitchell – What about American crimes against Middle Eastern countries? Over 100,000 Iraqis lost their lives because the Bush Admin went to war against that country. Are American forces not just as guilty? Was that war any more justified than the German invasion of Europe and Russia?

    October 6, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • athought

      The article is not about prosecuting people for war crimes. The article is about prosecuting death camp guards. These individuals orchestrated the executions of millions of civilian men, women and children, committing countless atrocities along the way. They make Dick Cheney look like a kindergarten teacher.

      October 6, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • USA#1

      American forces did not intentionally round up thousands of men, women, and children and systematically murder them like the Nazis did.

      October 7, 2011 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  8. SomeGuy

    This is ridiculous, hounding these old men.

    October 6, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • alex

      If these men were still alive they would realy be old...Its time to close the door with the past and go on with the furure..I think the Germans have said sorry enough..

      October 6, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brad76

      I agree. They're all on deaths bed, enough already.

      October 7, 2011 at 5:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Earnan

      What is "ridiculous" is that it has taken decades to track them down and bring them before a court for their crimes.

      They should have been tried and executed in 1945.

      October 7, 2011 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
    • ppk

      They act now because they can. Nobody wanted to prosecute the Nazis in the 50s and 60s because it would open a can of worms that would force the US and USSR to hand over all the Nazi scientists and intellectuals that were hired to serve American and Russian science establishments. You know who and what I am talking about. These foot-soldiers don't have either the money or political support to help them out, so, you know, take the easy targets out to fulfill symbolic fantasies.

      October 7, 2011 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Enough already... we don't care.

      October 7, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. Leon

    I was in ww2 as a 18 year kid, what the hell did I know about any thing, just like the 18 year old kids today, I did what I was told, what did I know about politicks, It was my country and my country could not do anything wrong, I think it was that way in germany I have talk to a lot of germans and I ask them why did you vote for Hitler, the answer was you had to vote for Hitler or the Commumionist that was trying to take over germany doing the depression people were hungry, I went hungry too at the same time, Russia was making a big move in germany, soon all of them will be dead, and a lot of people will be out of a job offices will be closed building will be sold the jew have a lot of money invested, the second ww, was part of the first ww war, if the first ww was handle right there would not have been a second, you can't take lands and property and put a country in poverty and make them pay for years to all the winning powers, the very last payment was made this year in full, the germans were made to pay and the people want hungry and what do you expect when the Fathers tell the young of a armistice not a surrender and the english and french came in after the germans lay down there guns, put them in outside wire prison cames held there doing the winter with no shelter thousand died , they dug hole in the ground and coverd themselves with dirt, and starve thats what happen and thats what the father said to his son and thats how he voted, for Hitler

    October 6, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      Not an excuse! People know the difference between right and wrong. The US didn't go into Iraq to commit mass murder of people, and frankly, Arabs do that to each other on a larger scale, not that the US war in Iraq was not wrong. Was it fair for Germany to take full blame? No, but the Kaiser was a moron. Following orders, following orders, that excuse is a broken record and falls on deaf ears. There is no excuse for the systematic murder of millions of men, women and children. Jews loved the countries they lived in, especially Germany, Jews fought and died for that country in the first world war.

      October 6, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Researcher

      I understand what you are really trying to convey Leon. Most of the people who have anything to say on this page were not there in WWII, they have assumptions and "facts" about the times you lived in, they also have many judgements towards the German people, they often don't really know the full meaning of "Dictatorship" because they never had to walk in your shoes. The truth is, persecution of the Jews (and others) has been for years... but because the Nazis were famous for it, then those crimes are seen as far worse. It's true, people do know right from wrong, and it's true persecuting many Jewish people was wrong, BUT, GOD should be the judge of people's hearts. Today Germany is a very modern, diverse and well built country. What about all the other countries and people who could have helped the Jews during WWII? Are they all innocent because they did'nt know? The truth is, those countries got off the hook because the mass murder of the Jews didn't happen in their country. Many countries are responsible for the mass murder of the Jews during WWII if the German people are also (but two wrongs wont make one right). The Nazis killed Jews, not Germans or German people. It would be more accurate to say that many German-Jews killed German-Jews, even Hitler was part Jewish! People really need to get the facts down right. If you are someone who is Anti-German because of what the Nazis did to the Jews, then you are a hypocrite, because your doing exactly what your preaching against. Nazis were German (many Jewish), but not all Germans (many Jewish) were Nazis. Im not trying to excuse the Nazis from responsibility of what they did during WWII. I am trying to shed light on the REAL mass murderer, and that was Anti-Semitisim, and it's no different outcome than Anti-German sentiment.

      October 7, 2011 at 4:58 am | Report abuse |
  10. KeithTexas

    Jews need to be prosecuted for war crimes committed in the last 44 years. Leave those old men alone, the war is over. F'ing Zealots are always taking up more air then they deserve, the Zealots are the ones that deserve death.

    October 6, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Earnan

      Aren't you late for your Klan meeting?

      October 7, 2011 at 6:31 am | Report abuse |
  11. alex

    He was catholic and a jew..
    And not German

    October 6, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tex71

    I wonder when they will reopen investigations into the banking work Prescott Bush did for the Nazi Party.

    October 6, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brad76

      Conveniently ignored. If Bush hadn't been funding them their wouldn't have been a Nazi Germany that was of any threat, and I highly doubt there would have been a World War.

      If the Jewish people are looking to get to the root of the problem, they should be going after the truth.

      October 7, 2011 at 5:19 am | Report abuse |
  13. M.K.

    A lot of Repukelicans had better hunt a hole and crawl in it. There are more Nazis in the Repukelican Party than there are anything else. A lot of them reside in Montana and Texas. hint, hint. Rick Perry might be on a list somewhere, he has the mindset of a Nazi storm trooper.

    October 7, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bmcleod

    How long can the Wiesenthal center keeping chasing ww11 Nazis?There can't be many left, all approaching 100.Will they then seek to prosecute other criminals against humanity, such as Netanyahu or other Israeli officials behind more recent Palestinian atrocities.Fat money in that.

    October 7, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
  15. Ted

    When is the world going to move on and try to live in peace rather than bring up the hate over and over? The Simon Wiesenthal Center is all about reliving hate and their tactics are at times no better than what the Nazi's did.

    October 7, 2011 at 3:11 am | Report abuse |
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