— The decision of a German court to close the file on a notorious
Nazi fugitive known as Dr. Death is a reminder that time
is running out to bring war criminals from World War II to
As my colleague Nicholas Kulish reports, a regional court in Baden-Baden said
on Friday that it had abandoned a criminal investigation into Aribert
Ferdinand Heim after concluding he died in Cairo in 1992.
The Austrian-born Waffen-SS concentration camp doctor,
who fled Germany in the 1960s and eluded capture for decades, would
be 98 if he were still alive.
Almost 70 years after the end of World War II, how
many surviving Nazi criminals are still on the run, and is there
any further hope of hunting down members of a dwindling band of geriatrics?
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, named for the most prominent
Nazi-hunter, believes there is.
Efraim Zuroff, who coordinates the Center’s research
on Nazi war criminals worldwide and is quoted by Nick on the Heim
case, said in April:
“Despite the somewhat prevalent assumption that it
is too late to bring Nazi murderers to justice, the figures clearly
prove otherwise, and we are trying to ensure that at least several
of these criminals will to be brought to trial during the coming
However, the name of the Center’s program for tracking
down remaining suspects — Operation Last Chance — tells its own story.
The Center’s last full report noted that in the 10
years to March 31, 2011, 89 legal decisions had been won against
Nazi war criminals and their collaborators in seven countries.
Dr. Zuroff said in the Center’s preliminary report
for 2012 that it was not the age of the suspects that was the biggest
obstacle to prosecution but rather, in many cases, a lack of political
In the United States, which has a good record of pursuing
suspects, two members of the House of Representatives proposed legislation
that would ban weapons sales to any country that harbored wanted
Nazis or modern-day war criminals.
The sponsors of the bill named no names. However,
the Simon Wiesenthal Center highlighted obstacles in post-Communist
“The campaign led by the Baltic countries to distort
the history of the Holocaust and obtain official recognition that
the crimes of the Communists are equal to those of the Nazis is another
major obstacle to the prosecution of those responsible for the crimes
of the Shoa [Holocaust],” it said in its preliminary 2012 report.
Jewish groups in Australia last month criticized a
ruling by the country’s High Court not to extradite Karoly “Charles”
Zentai to his native Hungary for the alleged wartime murder of a
The spur for continued prosecutions is not only to
obtain justice for surviving victims of Nazi crimes but to serve
as a reminder for younger generations of the full horrors of World
Scott Johnson wrote in an IHT Rendezvous article in
July of questions being raised in Europe about whether history —
and in particular the history of the Holocaust and World War II more
broadly — was being quietly erased.
As the Nazi-hunters contemplate what must surely be
the final years of their pursuit, their enterprise received a belated
boost last year when a German court convicted Ivan Demjanjuk, a former
guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center noted that it was the
first time in German legal history that a Nazi war criminal was convicted
without any evidence of a specific crime with a specific victim.
It therefore, theoretically, paved the way for the
prosecution of anyone who had served in a death camp or mobile killing
The verdict prompted the Center to launch Operation
Last Chance II, offering rewards of up to €25,000, or $32,500, for
information leading to the prosecution and punishment of such war
Where does all this leave the equally dwindling band
of survivors of Nazi crimes?
Israel’s Ynet News reported mixed reactions in July
to the announcement that 97-year-old Ladislaus Csizsik-Csatary, wanted
for his alleged involvement in the deaths of 15,700 Jews, had been
captured in Budapest.
“Why does God give these people such long lives?”
asked Pension Gesner, a Holocaust survivor. “It’s too late because
he has already lived his life.”