The Demjanjuk Farce: Germany Prepares a Show Trial

In 1968, the Bundestag got in on the act, including an inconspicuous paragraph in an inconspicuous law that amounted, in effect, to a general amnesty for all mere "accessories" to Nazi crimes. (For the details, see my earlier article on the Demjanjuk case here.) Only suspects whose special culpability was established by "particular personal characteristics" were to be excluded from the dispositions in question. Even supposing that it is legitimate for Germany to claim jurisdiction in his case, it is completely obvious that Demjanjuk -- the "smallest of the small fishes" -- should benefit from these dispositions. That German prosecutors are preparing charges against him anyway is perhaps the clearest indication that the purpose of the proceedings is not justice, but to put on a show trial for foreign consumption. The temptation to exploit Demjanjuk's accidental notoriety in order to create a myth of German vigilance appears to have been too powerful to resist.

Moreover, even larger fishes in the Nazi order, including such as bore direct responsibility in implementing the Nazis' genocidal "Jewish policy," have avoided prosecution. (On the example of Hans Gmelin, see my earlier discussion here. Gmelin was the father of Herta Däubler-Gmelin, the former German minister of justice who famously compared George Bush to Adolf Hitler.) The 1968 "backdoor amnesty" in fact specifically benefited the bureaucratic planners of the Holocaust in the so-called Reich Main Security Office (RSHA). Other larger fishes were brought to trial, but got off with mindbogglingly light sentences or were acquitted. The SS officer Joseph Oberhauser, for example, was in charge of all the foreign "volunteer helpers" at Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec. In 1965, the Munich District Court found him guilty of complicity in the murder of some 300,000 persons. His sentence? Four years and six months in prison. As the German legal historian Ingo Müller has observed, this works out to a total of 7.8 minutes for each of his victims. All eight of Oberhauser's codefendants -- every one of them an SS officer -- were acquitted.

According to an article on the English site of the German magazine Der Spiegel, German authorities already have their "sights" on four other suspected "Nazi war criminals" who immigrated to the United States. Three of them are former foreign "volunteers" and the other is an Austrian who has already been deported to his country of origin. Der Spiegel notes that it has been "difficult" to prosecute the foreign auxiliaries to Nazi crimes. But German authorities really do not have to look so far afield or go to so much trouble if they want to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Although their number, of course, diminishes from year to year, many homegrown and authentic Nazi war criminals are living in Germany. Both their crimes and their places of residence are known. Below is a list of seven Nazi war criminals, for example, that German prosecutors can indict right away. Their places of residence are given in parentheses.

Karl Gropler (Wollin)

Georg Rauch (Rümmingen)

Gerhard Sommer (Hamburg)

Alfred Mathias Concina (Freiberg)

Werner Bruss (Reinbek bei Hamburg)

Heinrich Schendel (Ortenberg)

Ludwig Göring (Karlsbad)

The seven men were members of the Waffen SS "Reichsführer" division that slaughtered some 560 Italian civilians in the infamous massacre of Sant'Anna di Stazzema in August 1944. Some 80% of the victims were women, children, and elderly persons. In June 2005, an Italian court found the seven men guilty of murder for their roles in the massacre. They have never faced punishment, however, because Germany refuses to extradite them. Three convicted co-defendants are reported to have died in the meanwhile. Germany likewise refuses to extradite many other convicted participants in SS massacres on foreign soil. Like countless Nazi war criminals before them, Gropler, Rauch, Sommer, Concina, Bruss, Schendel, and Göring are living out their lives in comfortable retirement in Germany.