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. banasy©

    @Jacob: Exactly!
    There shouldn't be a time limit as long as the perpetrators and families of the victims are still alive!

    @Reality Check:
    Be the first, then.
    Forge the way.
    It's never too late, unless you're one of them who thinks it perfectly fine to 'let it go already'.

    October 5, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. nibelungo

    I would open the concentration camps to finish the job..Jews and Muslims and put close together.

    October 5, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Funny Bunny

    Better let go and work for a better future.

    October 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tony

    With all that's going on in the world today, why are the several nations seeking out and prosecuting former Nazis? For Christ sakes, these men have to be in their 90's at least. I personally think it's just revenge of a few Jewish diehards whose soul reason for living is to relive the atrocities of WWII. While their cause may have been just, it's just time to put it to rest. Their burning hatred of former Nazis has, in my estimation, has become a sickness that has no place in modern civilization. Justice can no longer be served by putting men on trial based on 70 year old hearsay evidence.

    October 5, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bill

    a German who turns in a German is a trader just let it go Jews

    October 5, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. GrimWolf

    How about we reopen and reexamine the Nuremberg Trials? Plenty of discrepancies that make me and millions of others go "hmmmmmmm?"

    Careful what you wish for.

    October 5, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bruno937

    The desperate "holocaust industry" grasping at straws, going after Germans who were impression­able, scared 18-20 yr olds at the time in a war setting. Another desperate attempt to distract the world from Israel's own genocide against the Palestinia­ns even if it means using the victims of holocaust as a tool. Sad and pathetic.

    October 5, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. luke

    don't dwell on the past, although what happened back then was bad, we have similar problems of hatred now but we would rather focus are attention on 90 year nazi old guards instead of trying to make a dent in current problems. im sure some of these war criminals have been thinking about what happened and their part in it everyday of their life, is that not justice enough?

    October 5, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. clovis

    like button disappear ? why?

    October 5, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. brown

    The world no longer has sympathy for this cause. You Jews are hypocrites, look at what you do to the Palestinians!

    October 5, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cas

    Have a sense to separate a true crime against humanity and current miscalculation/stupidity of Israel political leaders on the Palestine issue.

    October 5, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Stefan Komar

    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 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, a German ally at the time, 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.
    You can't make things true that aren't true just because you may have an inexplicable, but apparently deep seated hatred for Poles.

    October 6, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  13. salman

    so, Ivan the Terrible is back in court again. can we actually reach a verdict and keep it for more than 25 minutes now?

    October 6, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ridiculous

    I think this is going overboard now. This guys were probably guard following orders, not murderers. Enough is enough, close the book and go watch the military channel to learn about history.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
    • steveinmo

      I wouldn't count on too much factual history from the Military Channel... Like it's twin History Channel, and also owned by NBC under A&E Networks, it's liable to have just as poor, sensationalist drivel as History and the rest of NBC – or should I say NBCUniv onwer GE – or should I say GE's owner Jeffry Immelt – or should I say the filthy rich (oh wait, he's a liberal) who's outsourced all of his GE overseas so he pays no taxes, yet is our job czar? Yeah, not much truth to be found in anything there.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  15. steveinmo

    But hasn't I'm-a-nut-job repeatedly stated this never happened?

    October 6, 2011 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
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