Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter and head of its Israel office, arrived in Denmark on Tuesday and contacted Danish police, asking them to investigate the 90-year-old Dane, Helmuth Leif Rasmussen, over possible involvement in the mass murder of Jews in Belarus during World War II.
The request came after former Danish Justice Minister Mette Frederiksen turned down a similar request from Zuroff in 2014, claiming that the Justice Ministry had no knowledge of this case and that it did not wish to get involved in it.
The information about Rasmussen was not, as is usually the case, a result of the investigations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center itself, but came from a groundbreaking book by Danish historians Dennis Larsen and Therkel Stræde, "En skole i vold" (A School of Violence), released in Denmark in the fall of 2014 to much acclaim. According to the book, Danish Nazis participated in the murder of 1,400 Jews at the Babruysk concentration camp, where Rasmussen was a guard.
Denmark is known for saving most of its Jews and for the long-lived myth of the Danish king riding his horse through Copenhagen with a yellow Star of David on his chest. What is much less known is that 6,000 Danish volunteers signed up for service with the SS or similar units -- such as the Danish Free Corps, consisting of Danish Nazis.
"Denmark boasts of its high profile concerning human rights ... and we have contributed toward the establishment of the International Criminal Court. It seems hollow and self-contradictory that we want to teach the rest of the world how you prosecute the perpetrators of genocide. But we are not willing to deal with our own perpetrators," Stræde told the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende, which interviewed him on the occasion of Zuroff's visit to Denmark.
"Many countries have no interest in putting these people on trial. Most governments want to spare themselves the bad publicity and the costs," Zuroff told Berlingske Tidende. "No one in the Nordic countries showed any interest in what the Nordic Nazis did during the war. No one asked the pertinent question back then, whether these people had been involved in war crimes. This case, therefore, could become a difficult one for Denmark, because it could mar the country's otherwise good reputation. But we will see justice done."
Stræde and Zuroff could not possibly have put the European hypocrisy more precisely. Little more than half a century after the atrocities of the Shoah, perpetrated by the Europeans, the latter have claimed and continue to claim the supreme moral high ground from which they proceed to preach to the world, though mostly and primarily to Israel.
The Europeans have, astoundingly and against all odds, become the world's verbal high priests of human rights, while dragging behind them their bloody pasts. Most European countries largely avoided any serious large-scale legal showdown over the war crimes they committed during the war, yet many Europeans believe that Jews "still talk too much about the Holocaust."
In Denmark, 26% thought so in 2014, according to the Anti-Defamation League's Global 100 poll from 2014, while in Norway it was 31%, in France 44%, in Germany and Austria 52% and in Greece 60%. In great contrast to these figures, in the U.K. it was only 10%. It would seem that a country's Nazi past would have something to do with the way in which the current generations feel about this question.
Zuroff's visit to Denmark might bear fruit, however, as opposed to the last request. According to Danish news outlet The Local, the public prosecutor for serious economic and international crime said that the complaint would be investigated. "This is a case that we take very seriously and we will study the report very closely," prosecutor Morten Niels Jakobsen said.
Nevertheless, there were still Danish voices claiming that the advanced age of the still-living Nazi criminal should absolve him from prosecution. This is a well-known argument among those Europeans who take pity on the old surviving Nazis. Zuroff, writing in The Times of Israel in 2013, has a clear answerto that:
"No doubt, there will be those who are skeptical of the continued pursuit of Nazi war criminals, now all elderly. ... The truth remains, however, that the passage of time does not, in any way, diminish the guilt of the murderers, nor should old age afford protection to those who committed such heinous crimes. ... If the criminals in question had been the ones who murdered the skeptics' grandmother or parent or uncle, I have no doubt that the importance of pursuing these criminals would suddenly be seen in a very different light."
There can be no expiration date for the punishment of evil of such magnitude.