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Friday, December 26, 2014

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Last-chance operation to catch Nazi war criminals

Tags: International
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Efraim Zuroff

BERLIN — A last-ditch effort to bring Nazi war criminals to justice in Germany was launched in Berlin.

Operation Last Chance II, announced last week, is a followup to a search for the last remaining unpunished Nazis launched by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office in 2006, Efraim Zuroff, Jerusalem-based chief Nazi hunter for the organization, said at a news conference hosted by the German Bundestag.

To facilitate tipsters, a new mobile telephone hotline has been established in Germany (+49 1572 494-7407). A reward of up to 25,000 euros, or about $33,500 (all figures Cdn), will be offered in stages: 5,000 euros ($6,500) if the person is indicted, another 5,000 euros if the person is convicted, and 100 euros ($135) for every day the person is in jail, up to 150 days, Zuroff said.

Aside from any new tips, there are known Nazis living out their years without facing justice, Zuroff said, adding he was especially keen to see three Germans brought to justice. They are: Klaas Carl Faber, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1947 in Holland, and escaped jail in 1952 and fled to Germany, where as a German citizen he was protected from extradition; Soreren Kam, who was indicted in Denmark for the 1943 murder of a Danish anti-Nazi newspaper editor, and Gerhard Sommer, who was convicted in absentia in Italy of murder in the massacre of 560 civilians and has been under investigation since 2002.

“The passage of time in no way relieves the guilt of the killers,” said Zuroff, whose 2009 book on the Last Chance project has just been translated into German. “Turning 90 doesn’t make a murderer into a Righteous Gentile.”

The Last Chance program got a shot in the arm from the conviction last May of John Demjanjuk, 91, as an accessory to murder at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland. Previously, the German prosecutors laid charges only when they could find evidence of a specific crime with a specific victim, but in the wake of the Demjanjuk conviction, that no longer had to be the case, explained Zuroff, who earlier this year signed a co-operation agreement with the Ludwigsburg-based Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes.

German prosecutors reportedly said last October that the conviction of Demjanjuk paved the way for reopening hundreds of similar cases in which no specific crime or victim could be pinned on the defendant, but in which there was a great likelihood of the accused having been a part of the killing machine.

Demjanjuk is appealing his conviction, and Zuroff admitted that it would “be a disaster if he wins his appeal. It would ruin any hope” of bringing some war criminals to justice, he said. 

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