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. Really

    Please correct me if I am wrong. Wasn't the Nazi party voted in by the majority of Germans at the time?
    To have 20-30 something year old prosecutors going after 80+ old guards is simply a waste of effort.
    The nation of Germany was behind this. War was declared on Germany. Germany lost the war. There was a treaty with conditions. There were Nuremburg trials. Those have long since ended. Unless these guys were listed in the people to be tried at Nuremburg, this is just a circus of distraction.
    Yeah, never forget. We know. We know. Oh, and it wasn't just Jews. There were 5 million other non Jews killed by the people in charge of Germany at the time.
    It is really time to move on.
    But there comes a time when it's just all about some lawyers making some money, and this is it.

    October 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • IJB

      I completely agree with you Stefan

      April 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy©

    There are people who want reparations for slavery.
    Not to put too fine a point on it, because slavery was an abomination, but why is that any more valid for the relatives of slaves who died 150 years ago than relatives of those who are still living who have lost mothers, brothers, etc?
    I don't get it.
    I'm not comparing apples to oranges, I genuinely don't get it.
    We're not asking for reparations: we are asking for justice.

    October 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Yeah, really

    So...there IS a statute of limitations on murder? Especially genocide? Cool.
    How long IS that, really? Until the last families involved die off? Very cool!

    October 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really

      So based on that, any and all members of the German Army from WWII should be found and prosecuted?
      No. That is exactly what treaties are for, so this kind of thing doesn't go on for 50+ years after the war ended.

      October 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. saywhat

    @ Really

    You are on the mark. What you say is historically correct.
    @ banasy

    I understand your point of view in seeking justice for those crimes. The issue has been kept alive for the world & it knows.
    There have been inhuman episodes of ethnic cleansing & genocide since the Holocaust. Some going on right now while the world watches. Has justice ever been sought for crimes against humanity even in these 'civilized' times we live in?

    October 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • v

      letting ww2-era genocide perps go definitely doesn't help those suffering from genocide today nor does it deter those perpetrating it. quite the opposite. there is no reason to choose which genocide to single out for persecution and which to "let go".

      October 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. driranek

    Pathetic profiteering by yet another generation of lawyers with taxpayers footing the bill for both sides. I'm near retirement and my parents hadn't even met when this occurred – what possible chance is there of actually having evidence?

    October 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Forever

    Yep, bad things happened in WWII, yep, absolutely. But this is getting ridiculous. Let it go. During war time, whether the soldier wanted to do the deed or not, there was no choice. IF you get caught not doing your job, you run the risk of being killed by your own people. Dreamers THINK that the soldier can stand up and defy orders, realists KNOW that is not how things are.. IF it's my life or yours.. Sorry buddy, you gotta go..

    October 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • v

      got news for you. committing murder under threat of prosecution is still murder. and these trials are generally not about regular soldiers under orders. these are about civilian killers involved in the nazi killing industry. yeah, they,too, could argue that this was their contribution in the fight against unemployment. so can every killer-for-hire...

      October 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. banasy©


    Yeah, I guess mine is a knee-jerk reaction.
    However, are you saying justice should never be sought for crimes committed today, because it hasn't been pursued zealously before?
    When do we *start*?
    Don't forget, WWII happened in a so-called civilized time, also...
    When we forget empathy, we forget humanity.
    I guess we'll just forget about any sort of justice, too.

    October 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • saywhat

      @ banasy

      Agree. Those responsible for crimes against humanity during wars, ethnic cleansing, genocide, treatment of prisoners etc are to be held accountable.
      But I can assure you that if that ever happens it will be selective at the discretion of the 'powers'.
      So either humanity pushes for all to be held accountable or let go.

      October 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. PrzemoN

    @ anonymous "semper fidelis"
    rather infidelis ...
    Many of our Polish brothers died for saying for the first time in Europe'39 NO to nazis. Also to protect our jewish friends.
    On the other hand you can find bad people everywhere, also in Israel – bad stupid, anti-polish, but it makes no sense to generalize. Do you want examples?
    One can think that selling lies is a good business like in the times of Adolf Hitler.

    October 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Abbacore

    This is not – "Each trial is an inoculation against hatred," This is – "EACH TRIAL IS REVENGE".

    Lets finally put a stop to these Revenge Trials!!

    October 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. 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 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. TowelHeadsAreMorons

    Why couldn't Hitler have gone after the towel heads first?

    October 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • George Patton

      Here's another Arab hating Tea Partier. Like I said already, the Nazis and the Tea Partiers do share an ideology of hate as do the Republicans.

      October 5, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Abbacore

    Rabbi!!!, You are an extremist, taking the legal system hostage, persecuting "somebody" for revenge. You are no different than the muslim extremist suicide bombers.

    October 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MikeBike

    A poster said: "So based on that, any and all members of the German Army from WWII should be found and prosecuted?" – NO, because the regular German military and the SS were two COMPLETELY SEPARATE GROUPS, and they didn't get along well. Driving a German tank and guarding a death camp are not in the same boat.

    Also, joining the SS was a choice – it was reserved for the most radical Nazi followers and they were all animals. These guards could have done something else – they were not slaves.

    As for the "get over it" comments: You have to be kidding me.

    October 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • IJB

      It Happened nearly 80 years ago MikeBike there convicting old men who just did what they told or they themselves would be killed. we should remember but also let them live out the rest of their life without them being hunted down. Orders are orders follow them or be marked as s traitor and be killed.

      April 19, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Capn Jer

    Someone needs to prosecute Obama for war crimes. How many people has he killed in Libya? How many US citizens has the CIA killed for him? I know of two that he had killed in Yemen on Sept 30, 2011. He has become as evil as Hitler who killed Germans citizens because of their religion. The only difference them is in the numbers killed so far.

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

      It's nice that you feel so much sympathy for those two "Americans" killed in Yemen. Just leave out the small detail that they were actively plotting attacks aimed at killing innocent people in the US and then they're just as American as apple pie!

      Funny how anyone that is against your political agenda is automatically "Hitler". If that were the case, then I'm sure we would have all killed ourselves off by now. You're Conservative right? Wow, you're different than me and I don't agree with you, you must be Hitler.

      October 6, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    Interesting discussion, BUT, there is actually a difference between battle and war crimes. Check the Geneva Conventions, if in doubt. The internet is a big place. It is there in several places. They are talking about prosecuting people who comitted war crimes, NOT regular soldiers.

    October 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • RD

      I'm glad someone on this thread knows the difference. The rest aren't inclined to let such technicalities stand in the way of their asinine arguments!

      October 6, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
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