A “last chance” campaign to root out surviving Nazi war criminals and bring them to justice before they die will be launched next week in Germany, almost 70 years after the end of World War Two.
Nazi-hunters have been encouraged by the prosecution last month in Hungary of 98-year-old Laszlo Csatary for helping to deport Jews to Auschwitz and by the arrest in Germany of Hans Lipschis, a suspected former guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“Operation Last Chance II” is the name given to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s publicity campaign, which includes putting up posters in big cities to enlist the help of the public in tracking down suspects.
Rewards of up to 25,000 euros ($32,600) are on offer.
On the striking poster is a black and white photograph of the notorious “Gate of Death” at the Nazis’ Birkenau extermination camp with the train tracks leading up to it. The slogan “Late, but not too late” is emblazoned across it.
“This is really it. We have two or three years maximum, that’s all,” Efraim Zuroff, head of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told Reuters.
The hunt is no longer for high-level perpetrators of the Holocaust, in which some 6 million Jews were murdered, but for thousands of people who helped in the machine of death. Zuroff says some 60 individuals could be alive and fit to go on trial.
“I don’t imagine 60 people will be brought to justice but every single one is a victory,” he said. “It may be two or three or five and there is no reason to forego these.
“Every prosecution is an important reminder that justice for the victims of the Holocaust can still be done,” and advanced age did not diminish guilt, he said.
The impetus for a handful of new investigations came from the landmark conviction in Munich in 2011 of Sobibor death camp guard John Demjanjuk. He was the first Nazi war criminal to be convicted in Germany without evidence of a specific crime or a victim but on the grounds that he was a guard at a death camp.
Demjanjuk, a retired U.S. mechanic born in Ukraine, had been taken prisoner by the Nazis when he was a Soviet Red Army soldier. He died in March last year aged 91.