BERLIN — The Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center launched a new drive in Germany Wednesday to catch the last perpetrators of the Holocaust still at large based on a major legal precedent set this year.
Efraim Zuroff told a news conference that the Center would offer a reward of up to 25,000 euros ($32,450) 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 deserves that an effort be made to find their murderers.”
Zuroff heads the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, 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 ground-breaking precedent set by the conviction in Germany in May of former camp guard John Demjanjuk, 91, could open the door to a new wave of criminal cases.
A Munich 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.
In a legal first, it found that simply demonstrating Demjanjuk’s employment at the camp, rather than his involvement in specific murders, was enough to implicate him in the killings committed there.
Demjanjuk, who was deported from the United States to stand trial, had denied the charges and is free pending an appeal before a federal court.
“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, joined at the press conference by an opposition deputy, Dietmar Nietan, and former MP Gert Weisskirchen.
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 33 countries.
Zuroff said that the previous campaign turned up 603 suspects around the world of whose cases 102 were submitted to prosecutors.
He said the new drive would focus on German or foreign men who served in death camps or the Einsatzgruppen, special mobile death squads deployed mainly in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union before the camps opened.
With perpetrators dying off, or becoming too frail to face trial, he said the number of potential defendants may amount to only about 40.
Zuroff said the Simon Wiesenthal Center now gave Germany relatively high marks for cooperation after decades of indifference and worked closely with the central office for the investigation of Nazi war crimes, based in the southwestern city of Ludwigsburg.
“We want to do whatever we can to help the German legal authorities bring these Holocaust perpetrators to justice,” Zuroff said.
“We are hoping that this effort will inspire and encourage and motivate faster action.”
He said those providing information would be given 5,000 euros for the indictment of a suspect, 5,000 euros for a conviction and 100 euros per day for the first 150 days of imprisonment, for a maximum total of 25,000 euros.
Zuroff announced an international tips hotline: +49-1573-494-7307.
Nietan acknowledged that Germany had long dragged its feet in the postwar years in hauling Nazi war criminals to court but had an obligation now to make up for lost time.
“This society must face up to its responsibility — there must be no statute of limitations or line drawn under history,” he said.