Wiesenthal Center Annual Report Notes Dramatic Increase in Number of New Investigations: Harshly Criticizes Absence of Political Will to Prosecute Suspects in Post-Communist Eastern Europe; Praises Continued Successes in US and Italy

Jerusalem – The Simon Wiesenthal Center today released the primary findings of its seventh Annual Status Report on the Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals, which covers the period from April 1, 2007 until March 31, 2008 and awarded grades ranging from A (highest) to F to evaluate the efforts and results achieved by more than three dozen countries which were either the site of Nazi crimes or admitted Holocaust perpetrators after World War II.

Among the report’s highlights are the following important developments:

  1. For the first time in almost a decade, a Nazi war criminal (ethnic German Michael Seifert who served at the Bolzano concentration camp) was extradited from the country to which he emigrated after World War II (Canada) to the country where he committed his crimes and had been convicted in absentia (Italy).
  2. In contrast to the past two years during which the number of “convictions” of Nazi war criminals (including denaturalizations and deportations) increased dramatically from five to twenty-one, only seven Nazis were “convicted” during the period under review. The main reason for the decline was the reduction in the number of convictions in Italy which dropped from fifteen last year to one this year.
  3. Among the most important positive developments was the significant increase in the number of new investigations initiated during he period under review which rose from sixty-three last year to over two hundred.
  4. The most disappointing result in a specific case during the period under review has been Hungary’s failure hereto to bring to justice Dr. Sandor Kepiro, one of the officers who carried out the mass murder of hundreds of civilians in Novi Sad, Serbia on January 23, 1942 who was convicted but never punished for the crime and who was exposed by the Wiesenthal Center living in Budapest in the summer of 2006.
  5. The continued and consistent success of the American “Office of Special Investigations” to take successful legal action against Holocaust perpetrators and the ongoing failure of most post-Communist governments to bring Nazi war criminals to justice.

The author of the report, Israel director Dr. Efraim Zuroff, who coordinates the Center’s research on Nazi war criminals worldwide, noted that the statistics in the report clearly show that a significant measure of justice can still be achieved against Nazi war criminals. “Since January 2001, seventy-six convictions against Nazi war criminals have been obtained, at least forty-eight new indictments have been filed, and hundreds of new investigations have been initiated. Despite the somewhat prevalent assumption that it is too late to bring Nazi murderers to justice, the figures clearly prove otherwise, and it is clear that of such criminals will continue to be brought to trial during the coming years. While it is generally assumed that it is the age of the suspects that is the biggest obstacle to prosecution, in many cases it is the lack of political will, more than anything else, that has hindered the efforts to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice, along with the mistaken notion that it was impossible at this point to locate, identify, and convict these criminals. The success achieved by dedicated prosecution agencies, and especially by the US Office of Special Investigations, should be a catalyst for governments all over the world to make a serious effort to maximize justice while it can still be obtained.”

Zuroff went on to explain that the Report’s purpose was to focus public attention on the issue and thereby “encourage all the governments involved to maximize their efforts to ensure that as many as possible of the unprosecuted Holocaust perpetrators will be held accountable for their crimes. In that respect, we seek to highlight both the positive results achieved by countries like the United States and Italy, as well as the abject failures of countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Ukraine which have continuously failed to bring any Holocaust perpetrators to justice, as well as Sweden which in principle refuses to investigate, let alone prosecute (due to a statue of limitations), and others who have either chosen to ignore the issue (Syria) or which have consistently failed to deal with it effectively primarily due to a lack of the requisite political will.”

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