Nazi hunters launch new drive to prosecute war criminals
The Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre launched a new bid in Germany Wednesday to catch the last perpetrators of the Holocaust still at large, with the help of local authorities.
Efraim Zuroff told a news conference that the Centre would offer an up to 25,000-euro ($32,450) reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of now elderly people implicated in Nazi crimes during World War II.
"The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers," Zuroff said. "Old age should not afford protection to mass murders. Each of the victims deserve that an effort be made to find their murderers."
Zuroff heads the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Los Angeles-based organisation named after the Holocaust survivor who was perhaps the best-known Nazi hunter until his death in 2005.
He said a new legal precedent set by the conviction in Germany in May of former camp guard John Demjanjuk, 91, could open to the door to a new wave of criminal cases.
A German court sentenced the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk to five years imprisonment for helping the Nazis kill almost 30,000 Jews during his time at the Sobibor extermination camp in German-occupied Poland during World War II.
Demjanjuk had denied the charges and is free pending an appeal before a federal court.
The case broke new legal ground as the court found that simply demonstrating Demjanjuk's employment at the camp during the war, rather than his involvement in specific murders, was enough to implicate him in the killings committed there.
"The Demjanjuk case should pave the way for the prosecution of many people who on a daily basis, for an extended period of time, were involved in mass murder," Zuroff said.
The new drive, called Operation Last Chance 2, follows a previous programme launched in the Baltic states in 2002 and extended to Germany in 2005.
It is co-managed by the US-based Targum Shlishi foundation and is aimed at helping governments locate Nazi war criminals in Austria, Germany, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Croatia as well as the Baltic countries.
With perpetrators dying off, or becoming too frail to face trial, Zuroff said the number of potential defendants may amount to only about 40.
He said the Simon Wiesenthal Centre continued to work closely with Germany's official office for the investigation of Nazi war crimes, based in the southwestern city of Ludwigsburg, on bringing the last perpetrators to justice.
© 2011 AFP