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 CNN.com 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. Daniel Wilson

    Rabbi Cooper is wrong using the term "Polish death camp" instead of "Nazi death camp in Poland". CNN repeats this mistake despite the fact that this problem has been in the media for many years. One cannot use this short form because some Americans will not understand. This is the fault of American education. I lived in the US for a quarter of the century and I met only a few Americans who knew something about geography. Answering the question "Where are you from?", I answered "from the country East of Germany". Nobody knew. That's why Rabbi Cooper should be more careful what words he uses and CNN should be better in its editorial.

    October 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stefan Komar

      Daniel,
      Precisely because of what you wrote, the Polish Community here wants the phrase German camps in occupied Poland, or Nazi camps in German occupied Poland.
      Poland is not the same as German or German Nazi occupied Poland
      Nazi and fascist is what the Soviets and their communist friends in the west, among other things, called anyone who opposed them, (even FDR and Truman were called Nazis) and those who were not with them. Poles, as the ultimate anti Soviets and anti communists, were very much maligned in this way. Nazi in Poland is not acceptable.

      October 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • jason

      Who cares about the Nazis anymore its 2011, GET OVER IT!!! and if you want to open an investigation how about investigating the Genocide that the holocaust survivors are placing on the Palestinians?? Thats an investigation that needs to start

      October 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Nukemall99

    Leave the guy alone. He was just another person in a big wheel. And to the guy who said you could choose to be a camp guard. You dont know what you are talking about. Most jobs where assigned to you and you did not have a choice. My Grandfather from Germany, bless his heart was forced to become a german soldier. Forced. His trade was ship building. At the end of the war he was forced to become a guard. Given two weeks of training and made to watch forced labor and hired labor workers. He himself was forced labor. Fact is, it over. Let it be. The real crime is the waste of money and time put into this. Germany lost. Its people are still ridiculed for something that happened a long time ago. At some point you have to stop the cycle and be the bigger person. Let it go, you are just creating new a new reason to dislike you. Special treatment is not looked up well.

    October 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • SmarterthanU

      Could not agree more. Go chase some war lords in Somalia where people are dying today because of these criminals! Get over it.

      October 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    @ George Patton:
    Oh, please.
    I'm a Republican, and I have no "ideology of hate."

    October 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    I can't respond. Still busting a$s at work for at least another couple of hours.

    October 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Polish-American in DC

    "John Demjanjuk, a guard at a Polish death camp" – Get it together, CNN. The death camps were all NAZI GERMAN, and never Polish. Poles were perescuted and murdered in the camps – they did NOT build them and run them and kill millions like Nazi Germans did.

    You need to correct this error immediately.

    October 5, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Bradshaw

      Well said, fix this error CNN. Its disgusting and disrespectful to many.

      October 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. James

    Get over it already. Why waste more tax payers monies. Trust me this world has way way more important economical & ethical things going on now that need to be dealt with.

    October 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Polish-American in DC

    @Semper Fidelis FAIL. Poles were not complicit in the camps and they never collaborated with Nazi Germany. Poland has the higest number of Righteous Among the Nations.

    It's maddening and saddening to see remarks like yours. Obviously the Nazi German propaganda machine, which worked really hard to shift its blame AND the Communist government in Poland after the war, succeeded in brainwashing you.

    Educate yourself before you accuse a nation of "complicity" when six million of its citizens were murdered during World War II. And now you dare to blame them for crimes perpetrated by Nazis and Soviets? Shame shame shame on you.

    October 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Aaron

    What's to investigate? Ireland took them all in. They're looking in the wrong places.

    October 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "right wing extremist"

    I'm so sorry CNN, the Nazis didn't do a good enough job on my family...probably in part because they couldn't FIND some of them. Love Jeff Frank They don't have to open anything on my account. Most of my family migrated to the U.S. and Soviet Union.

    October 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. banasy©

    Let it go? When the last person who has a number tattooed on there arm and the last person who helped put them there dies, then it should be let go.
    Until then, not so much.

    October 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bart Blaszczyk

    It's not a "Polish death camp", but a "Nazi death camp" that was located in Poland by the Nazi invaders (most of the European Jews lived in Poland). Shame on you Ashley Fantz for your ignorance!

    October 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tif31

    @Capn Jer

    You sir are a total idiot.

    October 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tif31

    Very well said banasy.

    October 5, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. heretic2go

    That's all tricky talk strategy, argument from weak analogy.and distinction without a difference. Many Poles (and Ukrainians, etc.) welcomed the Germans with open arms and collaborated with them. No matter how you slice it, the death camps were in Poland and, while administered by the Germans, employed Poles eager to help speed up the Final Solution.

    October 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stefan Komar

      Heretictogo.
      I see you are unable to grasp the difference between "Poland" and "German occupied Poland". Is your reasoning that anything in German occupied Poland is "Polish". I guess then that the German soldiers that crossed the border into "German occupied Poland" became "Polish" in an instance. Your argument is ridiculous.
      As far as the your ignorant claim that Poles welcomed the Germans with open arms there is plenty of historical fact that prove that your statement is pure hogwash. Poland refused overtures by Hitler to ally itself with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. Poland was the first to stand up to Germany, a country more than 2x larger in population. Poland had the largest underground, and was the country with the fourth largest number of military personnel fighting the German Nazis, outside of occupied Poland. They distinguished themselves in North Africa, the skies of Britain, Norway, Italy, France, Holland, etc. Warsaw was the only city which had two uprisings against the Germans. I could go on, and on. Before you make anymore silly accusations you should hit the history books.
      I think you confused the Poles with the Jews in Eastern Poland who collaborated with the Soviets against the Poles and welcomed the Soviets invading Poland, and then partook in brutal murders and deportations of hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens, generally woman, children and elderly, to Siberia by cattle car which resulted in a high percentage of deaths for these individuals. This after Poland accepted 500,000 Jews escaping the Russian civil war and granting them citizenship.
      AND FINALLY, THERE WERE NO POLISH GUARDS, NOR WERE THERE ANY POLES EMPLOYED AT THE GERMAN CAMPS. THAT IS A FACT. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!
      You can't make things true that aren't true just because you may have a deep seated hatred for Poles.

      October 6, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
  15. @SmarterthanU

    Go chase warlords in Somalia? They are...but why just Somalia? Because they're BLACK people being killed, and not whites? Get over it. FY!

    October 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
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