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. Trevor~~~~20

    GOOD JOB!!! I love you ALLL!!!!!!

    October 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. KC

    My feeling on the subject is that if it was so important for justice to be served to these men, it would have been done a long time ago when more evidence existed. Hitler killed mentally handicapped, physically handicapped, gays, catholics, gypsies and probably more groups that i haven't learned about, so why do Jews think its only about them?

    October 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Fish

      If nazis had a plan to erradicate gypsies – why did they survive the war. Europe today has a large pop'n of these people, a people who did not have the means to escape, unlike jews.
      As far as treatment of the disabled....well let's just say the nazis learned eugenics from the English speaking world prior to WWII

      October 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • KeithTexas

      Big Fish – your comment is stupid. There are plenty of Jews left, enough to do as they please in the world without any one to compel them to follow international law.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bill

    My father liberated Dachau concentration camp. I visited the camp on the 50th anniversary of the liberation. My father is listed on the Jewish War Memorial in S.C. for having liberated that camp.

    My father seldom spoke of what he saw as a 19 year old kid. But, it had a lasting effect on him and our family.

    He eventually died from the mental trauma he experienced in the war. One last casualty of WW2.

    He often said that we must never forget to love one another. If not love, then we must always respect one another. Because, we depend on our differences to keep humanity alive. Without these differences Humanity will be doomed.

    Humans know no greater evil, than when we turn on one another, and literally eat our own young.
    We must move on, but never forget, what happens when people do not appreciate the benefits of all our differences to our very own survival.

    October 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer NYC

      Beautiful post Bill. Your father was right. I pray for our fellow humans...there is a real loss of civility and respect for our fellow man spreading across the planet.

      October 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stefan Komar

      Your father was right Bill.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raj

      Thanks for the nice post, Bill. Appreciate the fine person your dad was.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Fish

      Your father is spot on about respect one another. We must know the underlying causes or reasons why one group turns on another. Distrust based on another group's behavior/action sparked the nazi party and German public's views in the 20's and 30's. The facts are there.
      What I can say for today, history is repeating itself.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Harley Roy

    As an "Old Brit Vet" who lives in Germany,my sole comment. Better late than never !!!

    October 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kuli

      Their age, health or anything they claim makes them unable to go to prison should be thrown out right away! What about the health and age those who you killed in those horror camps?!?! WHAT A SHAME! Hungarian court, what a shocker! I'm from Slovakia so i know exactly what Hungarians and their "system" is capable of! THAT'S A JOKE! I'm opposed to the death penalty but would gladly make exemptions for these animals!!! Would love to grab one of these old $%%#@ and show them what i think of them!!!

      October 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JOE

    Good Idea to reopen these files. Not that they would lead to new convictions but maybe this move would encourage the ICC in the Hague to try George W. Bush and his cabinet for Iraqi war crimes.

    October 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • dewed

      Yeah, I remember my time in Iraq...operating those furnaces we used to get rid of all the undesirables. Not.

      October 6, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • cyg

      We should all be so lucky to see Bush/Cheney in chains

      October 6, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • john swanson

      Joe,Like dewed said,May be they should of put you in the oven to.The way you talk you sure as hell can not be an AMERICAN.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • who cares?

      Cheney admitted to the crimes he's comitted and he's proud of it.

      October 6, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. buysellwwii

    if you like wwii check this site out. buyandsellwwii dot com it has many historical artifacts

    October 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Garnet69

    Thank you to your father

    October 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jewish but realistic

    First off, I am Jewish. Secondly, I am a Mason. Thirdly (and most importantly), I am a reasonable person.

    We Jews along with the rest of the world are literally brainwashed into forgetting the many other ethnic, political, fraternal and religious groups that were targeted by the Nazis. It was NOT only Jews who were sent to camps to die.

    Brother Masons were targeted.
    Gypsies (now frequently called "Roma") were targeted.
    Jehovah's Witnesses were targeted.
    Socialists were targeted.
    Communists were targeted.

    Now what do the above groups have in common besides being targeted by Nazis?


    Masons are frequently called "Devil Worshipers", "Illuminati", "Pagans", etc. There are MANY websites and radio programs that put us down and speculate WILDLY about Masons. Furthermore, we are BLAMED for all the world's ills. Isn't that the same sentiment that Jews faced in Nazi Germany???

    Jehovah's Witnesses are OPENLY and FREQUENTLY MOCKED and called a "cult", etc.

    Socialists and Communists are OPENLY and FREQUENTLY MOCKED.

    Gypsies are OPENLY and FREQUENTLY MOCKED–even in the mainstream media.

    What happens when we Jews get mocked? Yeah, call the attorneys!

    People need to understand the REAL history of WWII and Nazi Germany. This "Jewish Death Camp" crap is NOT A REALITY.

    October 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • jewish but realistic

      What I mean is that Death Camps were not "for Jews"–they were FOR ANYONE THAT WASN'T A NAZI.

      October 6, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      First of all, I don't believe you are really Jewish. Second of all, what world do you live in where you say Masons and Gypsies are regularly mocked? I can not even tell you the last time I heard either group mentioned.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • elections are rigged

      Mix a little truth with a little lie and you get a troll claiming to be jewish.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Pat

    Think it is all about creating jobs

    October 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jennifer NYC

    A great majority of the Germans did not know what was going on in the death camps. When Patton liberated one of the camps, he made the soldiers round up locals so they could see what their Nazi government was doing. He took Eisenhower to see and Eisenhower became physically sick...Americans were so shocked at what they saw...and many of the German people. I am sad to see this...most of those people are dead and I still believe Demjanjuk is innocent...the Israelis were going to try him but let him go due to lack of evidence. This is in the past, revenge...let it go. It will destroy you.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • pat carr

      I agree. These probes are stupid. There's plenty of fresh war crimes to prosecute. Are they going to start prosecuting corpses? noone else gets the attention that this particular issue does.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kuli

      That's BS !!! Germans just didn't wanna know but they had a very good idea! What did they think happened to all the Jews who all of a sudden disappeared from Germany over night!? That's such a common lie i keep hearing to defend the Germans it makes me sick! They didn't know?! That's why most of the population gladly made Krystal Nacht what it was, that's why they were cheering to see jews being loaded to big windowless coaches after being kidnaped from their homes, the whole families that's why they were throwing stones at every person who (had to and was) wearing the star of David, that's why they were spray painting their shops and homes with hatred slogans and signs !!!... PLEASE!!! No man would ever have as much power as Hitler did if most of the nation didn't stand behind him! Just like the attack on Czechoslovakia and Poland! What were the "innocent" germans saying then?! Nothing! Cheering and hailing all the way! WHAT A SHAME! AND WHAT A BAD EXCUSE FOR GEMANS!

      October 6, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • qanerd

      Actually, it was Patton who became ill and and Eisenhower who ordered the locals rounded up and bought to the camps. You best believe that if the majority of Germans did not know it was because they did not WANT to know. My father was there Jennifer.

      October 6, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Big Fish

    Yep, the holocaust industry gotta keep the myths and legends alive. Too much money and profits at stake. I wish the interested parties just move on. Let's focus on our learning past experiences and apply to current inhumane treatment of Palestinians.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peikovain

      Nice obsessed highjacking of the conversation to support your one-party police state agenda.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sharkfisher

      Palistinians are treated treated better than they should be.They are pathetic whiners with no morals .

      October 6, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. saywhat

    Crimes against humanity in wars, legacies of torture, genocide, ethnic cleansing continues to this day & is not historically confined to the dark days of slavery here on our land & Holocaust in Germany.

    Debasing itself is a sad manifestation of human psyche. We humans allow it & unashamedly own it.
    Can we say today that we are any different than the days of slavery or holocaust?
    South Africa under apartheid, Palestine under apartheid & ethnic cleansing, Kashmir genocide, Serbrenica, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan & so on. Wars, deaths in tens of thousands & destruction, torture, lust for destructive weapons, power, greed, hate, racism, paranoia & so on.
    Would we humans ever be different??

    October 6, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Andrew

    Regardless of the specificity of the article, we must always remember what happened in the holocaust. In fact, we have a duty to. The day it is forgotten or ignored, is the day it could happen again.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Filbert

      Andrew, do you think the lives of those who perished during the WWII Holocaust were more valuable than those who perished in Cambodia, Rwanda, Iraq, Bosnia, etc.? By the way, these events happened during our time when the Holocaust was definitely not forgotten. Humans will kill whether there is a remembrance or not, don't you think? Meanwhile, why should so much time and resources be devoted to tracking down perpetrators of something from 70 years ago, while ignoring perpetrators of more recent events? Well, let Germany do what they wish, but why should we care? Many take offence to the coninued attention the Holocaust receives over all other modern crimes against humanity... as if the lives of Jews are so much more valuable than anyone else's.

      October 6, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Chuck

    People need to get over it already. Even if they find some of these guys they are very old and have gotten over already. When you do bring them to trial, how are they going to get a fair trial now? With the evidence so old and most witnesses long gone it is impossible. Are you just going to give them a kangaroo court trial? If so you are no better them they were. One more point, where do we draw the line between policy makers like Goebbels and guards and the like just following orders?

    October 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Exactly ! Like Cheney approvong the torture of people in this day and age. Should the soldiers be put on trial, What about bush!

      October 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Chris

    This is so sad. little to no evidence and these old men are being treating like monsters. My Great Grandfather was a nazi and hes told me the stories . And how much exaggeration is being implemented towards these people. I dislike jews for being unable to absorb any scrutiny. An old roomie of mine recently became jewish and ever since then hes become a real dick and hyperactive with some sort of jewish surpremecy bulls***. What make the jews so special? The Media, And the guilt ingrained in whites minds for some history .

    October 6, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sharkfisher

      Are you black,muslim or both?

      October 6, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • sockpuppet

      well, don't worry-we can really tell you are related to a nazi

      October 6, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • N

      you are a sad little man...

      October 7, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
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