Operation: Last Chance.ARTICLES
February 23 2016 stuff.co.nz
We owe it to the victims to convict elderly Nazis

OPINION: Karl du Fresne's recent op-ed (What is gained from convicting elderly Nazis?, February 19) is hardly pleasant reading for a person like myself who has devoted the last 35 years to facilitating the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, but he does raise several legitimate points that deserve to be answered.

 In a perfect world, people like Reinhold Hanning and Hubert Zafke would have been prosecuted and convicted years ago, would have served their sentences and been able to enjoy their final years without being put on trial. Unfortunately, that is not what happened in Germany after World War II.

Very little was achieved in terms of justice, and many perpetrators were ignored or treated far too leniently by the courts. As a result, at least tens of thousands of persons who played a role in the persecution and murder of millions of innocent human beings never paid for their crimes, among them some of the primary architects and implementors of the Final Solution, and other Nazi crimes.

These failures of the German legal system do not, however, absolve the German authorities from attempting to maximise justice, while it can still be achieved. And in that respect, I think that the following very powerful arguments for continued prosecution must be kept in mind. 

The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the perpetrators. Just because more than 70 years have passed, the criminals are just as guilty as the day they committed their crimes.

Old age should not protect people who committed such heinous crimes. Just because a person reaches the age of 90, that does not turn an accomplice to murder into a Righteous Gentile. Three years ago, I tracked down Laszlo Csatary, who helped deport 15,700 Jews from Kosice to Auschwitz to be murdered. At the time, he was 96 years old and driving his own car. Should he have been ignored, just because of his age? The issue is a person's health, not his or her date of birth. In each of the cases slated for trial, medical experts have examined them and ruled them healthy enough to stand trial.

We owe it to the victims to try and find those who helped turn innocent men, women, and children, some of whom were older than they are today, into victims just because they were classified as "enemies of the Reich."

These trials are helpful in the fight against Holocaust denial and distortion.

These are the last people on earth who deserve any sympathy, since they had none for their innocent victims.

Contrary to du Fresne's assumption, none of these persons faced a death penalty for refusing to murder Jews. In fact, there is not a single documented case of a German being executed for refusing to do so.

These persons may appear today to be frail but when they were at their physical prime, they devoted their strength and energies to the persecution and murder of innocent victims.

All of these arguments apply to Nazi war crimes cases anywhere in the world, but there is one additional contemporary consideration, which suddenly became important during the past year for those taking place in Germany. The Federal Republic has recently accepted close to a million refugees, the overwhelming majority of whom come from the Middle East, where there is an abysmal ignorance of the Holocaust and where Holocaust denial is the norm. These people are in dire need of lessons about the history of Nazism and the Holocaust, and I cannot imagine a more effective way to introduce them to this subject, as well as to the rule of law, than by exposing them to such trials.