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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Filed under: Germany
soundoff (317 Responses)
  1. Dan Bednarik

    Yeah.. they are looking for hidden Nazi wealth to pay for Greece.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kierston

    I am amazed that after so long they are reopening Nazi cases. It must be given those, who have family members killed by the Nazis, a bit of closure and feel that their members have been served a little justice before it is officially too late. It also shows that the newer and younger generation of German and United States officials take this genecide into their concern and want to do something about it although it happened years ago.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Demiricous

    Way to late all those ww2 vets are dying. Both my grampas fought and are gone they died in there 80's a few years ago. Its more of a publicity stunt then anything.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. minxjeh

    I don't get why they're trying a guard. I don't think he really had a choice in what post he was assigned to, did he? He had to follow orders, no matter how bad they are. I'd hate to sound mean, but think about it like this: if you were threatened with death for not following orders, and you knew that the people you were originally going to execute were eventually going to die anyway – what would you do? I know for a fact I would follow orders, not because I'm loyal – but because it's our human nature to try and survive any way we can. Yes, what the Nazi Party did to the Jews was a terrible thing, but I don't think that the guards who were forced to be at the post in the first place should be tried for crimes such as this. I'm sorry if I sound terrible, but I'm just telling my opinion.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chris

    Really? Their going to hunt these people down? I mean come on.
    It happened and its over, stop trying to drudge up the past and put soldiers on trail.
    They act like being ruthless toward the Jews wasn't a basic mandate.

    October 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • N

      How interesting....Have you actually talked to camp survivour??? I have. Have you ever visited a Camp? I have. It's a shame every one cannot go we sure can go to plantations can't we??? D.D. Eisenhower said to a photographer when the camps started to be found and liberated, to make sure to get all the photos he could because there was going to be some idiot in the future who would say the Holocaust never happened or diminish it in some way....and that is just what is happening. The younger generation today has about as much interest in history and as much tact as a bowl of turnip....they could care less. I am ashamed of all of you.

      October 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Baked Scrod

      Fine with me. Hunt every one of them down and at least pee on their graves. Dig them up like they did Doctor Mengele and toss their skulls on the pile. Anyone who worked in one of those camps ought to be starved and beaten at the least, or have their favorite child killed horribly.

      October 6, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. CR

    It doesn't much matter if the guilty party is a camp guard or Hitler himself - guilt is guilt. The person who guarded the gates is not the same as he who put forth the deliberate and planned extermination of a great many people of all sorts, but he was a willing collaborator. He helped. Even if his conviction at this late date seems a feeble gesture, it's an important symbol, an important and stubborn statement of Never Again. Because, if we haven't noticed, it hasn't stopped. Each generation comes up with its own holocaust - why? because we haven't learned much, however often this happens. We decide to put it behind us, to forgive and forget, and forge on ahead to the next atrocity.

    We can't overlook the fact that there are plenty of fools out there who claim the Holocaust never happened, or that it's exagerrated - there are people hoping for another one as soon as all of its witnesses are gone. Those who think it's a "myth" are unbelieveably duped. Those who think Hitler's victims are self-pitying haven't got an ounce of human compassion. Those who think convicting elderly collaborators is an obsessive and hateful waste of time and retribution are blind. That is not hate - it's justice, and it's not an obsession, it's a duty.

    Let's not get stuck in a "who suffered more" discussion. Everyone suffered in WWII.

    October 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thor

      ...So CR ... stand by to be judged for the death of Troy Davis: you are a party!

      October 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • tony

      If I understand your reasoning, every one who pulled a trigger (on the losing side) is a criminal and should be hunted down like a dog. Imagine a world where Armenians, Jews, Russians, American Indians....American. black....etc all went around avenging their ancestors in this day and age? UTTER CHAOS!

      October 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Baked Scrod

      Tony, not everyone. Just Germans.

      October 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Thor

    The Jewish religion must keep itself relevant somehow.

    October 6, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Thor

    Yiddah needs a step on to crow!

    October 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. tony

    The biggest problem facing these zealots is what are they gonna do when they run out of Hitler 's youth.

    October 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Chris

    Okay let me get this straight. They're investigating the killing of jews in concentration camps for what the gaurds did under orders? The united states killed civilians any many places Iraw, Veitnam, ect. Why aren't those soldiers being prosecuted? I do not agree with what the Nazi's did.

    October 6, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Il rkn


    October 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jet

    Should read, 'And Then There Were Others' ... but don't believe it is available in the USA (banned) BUT, you can Google it.
    Speaks about the atrocities committed against Germans after WWII and the thousands of prisoners who were caged in barbed wire and left to starve. Escape attempts were met with certain death. There are photos and many (Allies) eye witnesses who have told their stories, in disbelief of the heinous treatment of the German POWs.

    Demjanjuk, as I understand, was indirectly involved in the killing of thousands of Jews. Many realize that if guards in these camps did not fulfill their (even indirect) duties that they would be shot. Next! Next! Next! Next!

    The Holocaust happened (65-70 yrs ago) And I do not condone this atrocity against humanity (all victims ... not just Jews)

    But it has been said that we should live for today, and tomorrow, for yesterday is gone. And for those who continue to live in the past ... will die in the past. Maybe it's time to agree that 'YES' the Holocaust happened ... yep, it was pretty horrific and a lot of people died ... and move forward. (with or without the few old guards that got away)

    October 6, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Earnan

      Typical Euro-trash response. No books are banned in the US; that's something all too many Euro-trash nations rely on to keep their subjects brainwashed and "protected" from bad thoughts.

      October 7, 2011 at 6:42 am | Report abuse |
  13. mejazzbo

    I have no problem with keeping the pressure on actual Nazi war criminals. May they forever be looking over their shoulders for the past to catch up with them.

    October 6, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SamiiFoShizzle

    I think it's a very good topic because Hitler had NO right to kill all of the jews. Nazis suck.. end of story.

    October 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. erik

    The US Government brought Hitler's entire Third Reich to America after WWII, merged it with the American OSS to form the C.I.A. The C.I.A.'s Nazis took over America from within. For more information about Nazi war criminals, please visit Can you name one good thing the C.I.A. has ever done for America? Bush Sr. was a Nazi and he wasn't born in America. His real name is George H. Scherff jr. the son of Nikola Tesla's illegal immigrant German born accountant George H. Scherff sr.!

    October 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
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