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.

Post by:
Filed under: Germany
soundoff (317 Responses)
  1. Jean Paul

    It's incredible that Germany discovered AFTER 65 years of the end of the war that there are some Nazi criminals at large. And it's even more incredible that they are only Eastern Europeans. That's a sad and ridiculous marketing campaign of the German government.

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

      This means that George and Dick has to hide until they leave for heaven, if they do!

      October 5, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Not surprising. Germany is sick and tired of all this and, quite frankly, so am I. Though I hate, with a passion, what occurred during the 1934-45 era even I say, "enough is enough". The trails that got the real criminals took place soon after the war; and even for a lot of those criminals, there is considerable debate now on whether or not most of them deserved the sentences they received. Remember the past but there is no reason to commit 90 year old frail men to prison.

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

      Scott- So just because a criminal is 90 years old, we should just let them go and not hold em accountable for their actions. now granted they should have been convicted a long time ago. But still, justice needs to be served no matter how long it takes or how old they are.

      October 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaoBinHitler

      I'd love to see either of them put in the general population of a federal pennitentary, then have it turned into a reality tv show. It would get the highest ratings of any tv show ever. EVERYONE would turn in to watch "bush n dick" every week, no matter what your political beliefs are. you cant tell me it wouldnt.

      October 5, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy©

    @Jean Paul:
    They're REOPENING the cases.

    @Jeff Frank:
    So glad they don't have to open a case for your family. How are they doing, btw?

    Hopefully, they'll open one for my family.
    No, I'm not Jewish, but as the world *should* know, it wasn't only Jews that were killed.

    October 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reality Check

      The Russians tortured and murdered my family. Where was our family's justice? Oh wait, because they were German citizens, we didn't get justice because it was "war."

      October 5, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bo Karlsson

    I just wonder if anyone will go to the same lenght to procecute George Bush for war crimes?
    Waterboarding, electric shock, Guantanamo, unlawful combattants etc etc?
    Innocent until proven guilty?

    October 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerk182

      Bush and Cheney are about the most dangerous Americans I can think of in a long time. The damage they've done, both tangible and intangible, are at least equal to or surpass that commited by the likes of James Earl Ray, Oswald, Manson, McVeigh. W's and Dick's horrible legacy will haunt us for decades.

      October 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaoBinHitler

      its been proven time and time again already. I'd love to see either of them put in the general population of a federal pennitentary, then have it turned into a reality tv show. It would get the highest ratings of any tv show ever. EVERYONE would turn in to watch "bush n dick" every week, no matter what your political beliefs are. you cant tell me it wouldnt.

      October 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jimmy d'Greek

    Maybe they could have PAY-PER- VIEW hangings, and then we wouldn't have to sell any of our islands to cover our debt.

    October 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  5. TiredofYou

    @Joey Isotta-Fraschini:
    Congratulations on busting your ass at your job. We'll ALL await your pearls of wisdom with bated breath. If you get any more pretentious, you're head will explode. But then, hedonistic man-about-the-world that you are, you'll scoop up your brains, fry them up is some lightly-salted garlic butter, and dine on it, along with the appropriate wine accompanying it. Served with a sprig of Italian parsley.

    October 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. TiredofYou

    @Bo: one can hope!!!

    October 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jerk182

    Too little...much, much, much too late. There will never be any effective punishment for these individuals as a result of any action Germany may take at this late stage. In a perverse way these nearly insignificant prosecutions may actually serve to slightly cheapen the significance of the Holocaust and the actions of all those who perpetrated it.

    October 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Steve G.

    "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."

    He was a guard at a *German* camp that was in Poland. The Poles did not run the camps; your adjective is wrong and needs to be corrected.

    October 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Frank

    The thirst for blood revenge for some never dies.
    With no death penalty, I guess Germany can just set up new nursing home prisons and fund those. It's a good thing this isn't happening in Greece or somewhere that couldn't afford to spend lots of money to assuage generations-old guilt.

    October 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |



    October 5, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerk182

      Excellent point. Hadn't even thought of that.

      October 5, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jacob

      People were never sent to concentration camps for being black or because of Jim Crow laws. Both were awful things that happened in the USA's and Germany's history, but you can't compare the two

      October 5, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Insan Mukmin

    It is ridiculous to punish a prison camp guard for torture and executions that happened at the prison camp unless he was personally involved in the torture and executions that happened at that camp. Using this logic, the Pope should be on trial because he served as a soldier in Hitler's Army. The Pope said he had no choice because the Nazis executed anyone who refused to sign up when drafted.

    October 5, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Adolf Hitler


    October 5, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kuli

      Shut the %&$# you idiot u have no idea what u r even saying

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

      Who forgot to take their cyanide vial this morning...!?

      October 7, 2011 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
  13. @ Insan Mukmin

    It is equally ridiculous to equate the Pope, who was a soldier, albeit reluctantly, to the brutal guards that took great enjoyment doing everything they could to make the prisoner's lives more miserable than they already were. These animals did everything except *guard* the prisoners.

    October 5, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. sk

    not only jews but they killd some many people just for fun of it

    October 5, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. atomicar

    It does not matter how long time ago these killings happened. There should not be time limits for those who murdered. Shame on those who like to point our leaders wrong doings, but don't say anything against those countries who still kill their own people. Shame.
    Who knows how many Gypsies were killed who had no hope at all. Gypsies are sill rejected and prosecuted against many European countries. English government prevented Jews to escape the terror. US Roosevelt did the same. After those Nazis who were valuable to allied governments got saved, like the nazi rocket scientists. Who are later praised for their work even though used knowingly slave labor.

    October 5, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12