They’re just too darn old. The guy’s in a wheelchair. World War II was ages ago. And throwing these guys at the mercy of the court just incites anti-Semitism among the masses.
So go the myriad excuses for foot-dragging or altogether avoiding tracking down and prosecuting the last remaining Nazi war criminals.
But abandoning efforts now to bring the aging suspects to justice for crimes against humanity not only is an insult to millions of Holocaust victims and survivors, it’s a disservice to the more than 400,000 U.S. soldiers — and millions worldwide — who gave their lives to stop the evil unleashed by the Third Reich.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center recently released an updated list of the most wanted Nazis. Topping the list, with a notation expressing skepticism as to whether he’s still alive, is Alois Brunner, “best man” to Adolf Eichmann and responsible for the deportation of more than 128,000 Jews to death camps. He was last living in Syria, where the regime sheltered him for decades, stymieing French efforts to make Brunner serve a life sentence for war crimes.
Then there’s Aribert Heim, one of the Nazis’ infamous “first, do harm” doctors who tortured and killed camp prisoners in grotesque, experimental ways, and is definitely thought to be among the living. The “Butcher of Mauthausen” has been on the run since 1962, hidden with the assistance of the ODESSA and, apparently, his kids: His daughter in Chile claimed Heim died in 1993, producing no death certificate even though evidence suggests Heim was living in Chile through 2006; the subsequent chase to Spain, where covert wire transfers led investigators, puts Heim in the hands of friends of his son.
And there’s Ivan Demjanjuk, who worked for years at a Ford plant before a U.S. immigration judge ruled that as he’d been a guard at three concentration camps — and lied about it on his citizenship application — he should be deported to the Ukraine. Just last week, Demjanjuk lost his appeal of the ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Also last week, Poland dropped its war crimes probe into Demjanjuk, even though proving that he had worked at Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka II death camps.
Earlier this year, Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Wiesenthal Center in Israel, told Der Spiegel that the number of those who participated in exacting Hitler’s “final solution” and are still alive number “at least hundreds if not thousands.”
In its report, the Wiesenthal Center issued grades to countries based on their compliance in helping bring the last Nazis to justice — or their hindrance of the same.
Hungary — graded an F-2, “failure in practice” — has dragged its feet in retrying Sandor Kepiro in the Serbian Novi Sad massacre, after refusing to make the former Hungarian officer serve time on previous convictions. However, Hungary has been trying to get Karoly (Charles) Zentai, accused in manhunts and slayings of Jews in Budapest, extradited from Australia (also an F-2) since 2005.
The quest for justice against Milivoj Asner, a Croatian police chief of the sadistic Ustasha who sent hundreds of Jews, Gypsies and Serbs to death camps, has been stonewalled by Austria (grade = C), which has found one excuse after another to not extradite him to face a 2005 indictment in Croatia (an F-2 country).
Grade-B Germany, however, continues to shelter Soeren Kam, a former SS officer indicted in Denmark (grade = D) for the 1943 slaying of an anti-Nazi newspaper editor, Carl Henrik Clemmensen, refusing his extradition. The Daily Telegraph, probing Kam’s life in Germany last fall, noted he “has regularly attended veterans’ rallies of SS men. He has also been closely associated with Heinrich Himmler’s daughter Gudrun Burwitz and her network Stille Hilfe (Silent Aid), set up to support arrested, condemned or fugitive former SS men.”
Heinrich Boere, who after the war admitted killing three men as part of an SS hit squad that took out the Dutch resistance, also found shelter in Germany, which has refused to extradite him but last month charged him in the war crimes. “I’m not interested in what happened back then,” Boere told Der Spiegel last fall.
Algimantas Dailide was convicted by Lithuania — like Hungary, an F-2 grade — for capturing Poles and Jews, including women and children, trying to escape from the Vilna Ghetto. But the court refused to send him to prison “because he is very old and does not pose danger to society.”
Simon Wiesenthal once said, “The only value of nearly five decades of my work is a warning to the murderers of tomorrow, that they will never rest.” However, this is a world that has gone soft on genocide. Rwanda’s massacre occurred with hardly an eyelash batted. War critics are eager to explain away Saddam’s mass graves and systematic genocide against the Kurds. Interventionism, whether to stop the suffering in Burma or save the people of Darfur, is frowned upon as people put priority on how the bloodlettings do or don’t directly affect them.
And that sympathy for the devil rears its ugly head when modern-day prosecutions of Nazi war criminals are deemed useless, or when countries harbor the aging fugitives.
Operation Last Chance aims to root out the remaining Nazi war criminals before they die of old age, offering rewards for information leading to their arrests and prosecutions in a joint mission of the Wiesenthal Center and the Targum Shlishi Foundation of Miami. The project — which has discovered top wanted Nazis including Kepiro, Asner and Zentai — is named so because time is not on the side of the Nazi hunters.
Time is also running out to see justice done and repay our WWII vets who risked all to try to stop the “final solution.”