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. Paul Johnston

    Yes, Merkel would like to forget all this Nazi past but they're doing it all over again doing a new kind of "Blitzkrieg" in the financial markets by taking over Greece, Ireland and Portugal without a shot fired!!!

    October 6, 2011 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
  2. Gary

    Stupid Rabbi smears Poles for what American and Gernam fianciers unlished. Cooper go bite IBM or grandpa Bush.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
  3. yehoshuaaharon

    You got to be kidding me. I know many of these men did some horrible things. But what is the point of trying people who are one foot in the grave. There has to be some level of forgiveness even though many of these men we commanded to do or even did atrocious things. This is all a distraction to what is really important in the world today. Think of all the tax payer money that is going into these manhunts and think about all the other things human kind could do with this money for better things. I am so tired of hearing about Nazi this Nazi that. Seriously enough is enough. This eye for an eye thing ended a long time ago.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Foot on the grave or not, they need to prosecuted and jailed. This is not eye for an eye, or we would be gassing them.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
    • ajkido

      Germany has still a lot of them who supported the Nazis and held a picture of Hitler on the wall.
      everyone should be held accountable for what they did, the only question is why it was not done

      October 6, 2011 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
    • cheeseroll

      It's not an eye for an eye, doofus.

      What if I murdered your family and absconded for 60 years?

      I'm then gonna claim that you prosecuting me for murder is an "eye for an eye".

      Being old does not absolve you for heinous crimes you did. Can you think of the millions of Jewish, Roma, and Slavic children who did not live to see old age because of what these freaks did?

      October 6, 2011 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  4. yehoshuaaharon

    edit: were commanded not we commanded.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. ambuu

    I'm pretty sure war brings up a totally different atmosphere that changes people's mentality and actions. During war times, I would guess that many of those who are now crying "... they've done unimaginable things" will find themselves killing, raping, torturing. If there is war, war crimes will exist in all generations, just like there will be those who will seek revenge... I mean "justice" once the war ends.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
  6. davey Jones

    The jews killed Jesus. Can we please find the descendants of those Jews and take away their inherited property as compensation for a most heinous crime? Rabbi Cooper, may I ask where your descendents were 2011 years ago? I'm opening a criminal investigation.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Nobody is looking for descendants, you moron, but for the actual criminals. And Jesus was a Jew, so they just killed one of their own, so what you said makes no sense.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Kate65

      Actually, it was the Romans who crucified Jesus. Crucifixion was a standard execution method that they historically used. Pontius Pilate had the authority to release Jesus, but he didn't. He "washed his hands". Roman soldiers were the ones who nailed his hands and feet to the cross, and it was a Roman spear which "finished him off", so that he would be dead before sundown. Rather than merely repeat what pastors bent on shouting from the pulpit claim, try actually reading the story. Check your empirical data please.

      October 6, 2011 at 3:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Sheogorath

      kate is quite correct, the jews werent the ones that killed him, if ya wanna blame someone blame the romans,

      October 6, 2011 at 6:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Marco

      Once again somebody wants to use Jesus to blame the Jews. Not the Jews only were responsible of it, neither the Romans, it was the whole mankind with its sin that made Jesus to sacrifice his life to reestablish the relationship between God and His creatures. If any Christian thinks different he should examine himself being a Christian.

      October 6, 2011 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Sheogorath

      nah im pretty sure i didnt see my grandpa impaling jesus with a "roman" spear after putting him on a "roman" execution method after being made by "romans" to carry his cross to the hill then having " romans" gamble off his stuff, so ya, youll excuse me if i blame the romans

      October 6, 2011 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Sheogorath

      plus, im catholic, the religion that christianity broke off from, they are more strict in their version of our religion, but my personal beliefs unrelated to religion is that romans are the only ones to be held accountable for the death of christ

      October 6, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
    • cheeseroll

      What for? You don't even believe in a god.

      Either spit your atheist dribble or claim that Jesus exists.

      Don't pick one and the other to suit your inane claims.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Name

      Davey Jones, (and all others who "think" like you...) 1- Romans, not Jews killed Jesus. If it had been Jews, he would have been HANGED. 2- Assuming Jesus ever actually lived, (and was not, like "god" a made up fictional character,) his alleged "murder" was an execution. 3- Even if he was real, and even if he was executed, and even if that was illegal, WHO nailed him to the tree? No Jewish hand held him down or drove a nail, it was a ROMAN, hate them you piece of offal. 4- Even if you blame Jews for crying out for blood, when has a a judge who is a citizen of an empire EVER not wanted to execute someone, but because the local provincial yokels want it, sighed, and done it anyway even when he thought it was not the right thing to do? The story fairly REEKS of the bullspit that it is. 5- assuming the hilariously false accusations in the Christian Book of LIES, (A.K.A. the bible, as if there's only one) is anything more than poorly written historical FICTION, Jesus was a JEW, and so if all Jews killed Jesus, then Jesus' death was also a SUICIDE, which ALSO means he was not WITHOUT SIN, making him imperfect, and thus blowing a huge, gaping hole in your bullspit belief system... that crap about Jews and "Jesus" has ever been an excuse for tormenting Jews, robbing them, etc., for racist bigots and other morons. 5-Even if it was the Jews, we do not regard guilt as heritable, or YOU would be just as guilty as them or anyone else for the inherited MURDER of Able by Cain. (By your utterly ludicrous "logic," so you're going to prosecute yourself for that, right?) So lastly, 6-(To Germany) Sie sind einen Tag spaet, und einrn Euro KURZ damit!

      October 6, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  7. davey Jones

    "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"

    No direct evidence?? And you can convict on that?? Witchhunt...

    October 6, 2011 at 2:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      There is direct evidence that he was a guard there, so he was accused of being an accessory to murder.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
    • boogieman7167

      Rick i agree with direct evidence tying Demjanjuk to crimes yet the covicted him anyway sonds like a witch hunt to me.

      October 6, 2011 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
    • boogieman7167

      davy i agree with no direct evidence tying Demjanjuk to crimes yet the covicted him anyway sonds like a witch hunt

      October 6, 2011 at 7:38 am | Report abuse |
  8. Actionisreaction

    Everyone has a choice. The Nazi's or german/austrian individual's who were employed to kill had the choice to be a guard or do something else. I have lived in Austria for almost 10 years and this is how they are...they would rather watch then help someone. Sorry, but the truth always hurts. They are both cold nations, and if you know the language that also explains it as well. Anyways, its good that they are catching all the Nazi's they should, to teach people that in life things you did bad will come back for you.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. one-up-ya

    How disgustingly cheesy to liken the t-partiers and repubs to nazis. If there is evidence for ANY one involved in commiting atrocities, from any time, prosecute. But don't water down the meaning with blathreing ignorance. NAZI germany was exceeding bad, but only because Nazi means something.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:41 am | Report abuse |
  10. Um, ok...

    "An eye for an eye makes us all blind."

    October 6, 2011 at 3:49 am | Report abuse |
  11. Michal Karski

    Glad to see that CNN has amended the contentious phrase (‘Polish death camps’).

    Whatever anyone might think about the rights or wrongs of the proposed prosecutions, there’s no doubt that this is a hugely important story which will be read by a great many people, coming as it does, from CNN, the brilliant originator of rolling 24 hour news and a massively influential news organization. It’s precisely because of CNN’s influence that linguistic precision is so important.

    It could be argued that the description ‘Polish death camps’ refers only to geographical location and as such is essentially harmless. The trouble is, of course, that people who may not have a clear idea about what happened in World War Two might come away with the impression that Poland was somehow responsible for these camps. Nothing could be further from the truth. The camps were built and run by Nazi Germany.

    Poland as a state paid a very heavy price for refusing to collaborate with the Nazi invaders. Responsible news organizations (such as the British Guardian newspaper, for example) are making sure that the description of the concentration camps – which may have been situated in Poland – nevertheless places responsibility squarely where it belongs: on the Nazis themselves.

    October 6, 2011 at 6:37 am | Report abuse |
  12. tony

    Vendettas against former evil doers by so-called Nazis hunters is wrong. Persecution of individuals who committed "war crimes" some 70 years ago is in itself a crime. To devote one's entire life to vengeance is a sickness that is essentially evil. Maybe it's to much to ask of those who have been wronged to forgive. But to carry a burning hatred for close to a century is not what're our God intended.

    October 6, 2011 at 7:37 am | Report abuse |
    • boogieman7167

      tony u agree with you its time to move on most of these guys ar dead or have on foot in the grave and now it seems more like a Vendetta than anything else again its time to move on

      October 6, 2011 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. BurstBubble

    Regarding these war crimes of world War 2...... If these people are going to be prosecuted, what evidence is needed. Prosecuting a guard for following orders under duress ( if they didn't follow orders they more likely would be shot) verses the leader that ordered it? What about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? Iraq war wasn't ever a legitimate war. There were innocent people killed there too you know. Will the US leaders ever face War crimes? What about assassinations that have been in the news?

    October 6, 2011 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. Frank Rizzo

    What about Israel spying on the USA and stealing our Military and Civilian Secrets Israel is no friend or ally of this nation as soon as Americans come to realize that the better off will be without those bloodsucking demons lol.

    October 6, 2011 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
  15. ytuque

    In case the Jewish lobby hadn't noticed, it is NOT the handful of senile and incontinent former nazi prison guards that is the problem; it's the hordes of hostile young muslim immigrants who have one foot in Europe and the other firmly in the 7th century.

    October 6, 2011 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
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