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Bundestag Being Pressed for Early Decision on Continuing Trials of Nazi War Criminals

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The Bundestag’s momentous debate over the extension of the statute of limitations for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals is nearing a climax with supporters demanding an early decision and opponents pressing a string of proposals that could, in effect; allow most Nazis still at large to go scot-free. Herbert Wehner, the Social Democratic Party floor leader has urged that a vote be taken before parliament recesses for the summer in mid – July. The statute is due to expire on Dec. 31 unless extended or abolished.

This is a burning issue which must be settled at the soonest,” he said, noting that “the discussions are now in a critical phase. We must have a clear decision end I won’t tolerate-any tricks and maneuvers to postpone it any longer. And I reject attempts to reverse the basic intentions of the law, “Wehner said. Former Justice Minister Gerhard John, deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party, supported Wehner. He noted that “certain Bonn parliamentarians” are trying to “push through special regulations for criminals who committed crimes during the Nazi time.”

He was referring to a series of proposals by the opposition Christian Democratic Party including one that “minor Nazi criminals” should be exempted from prosecution “if the accused was in a subordinate position and carried out orders.”

Another proposal by the Christian Democrats legal advisor, Benno Ehrhard, would drop cases where the “moral and social behavior of the accused permits the conclusion that he won’t commit any more crimes.” That was not supported by the opposition party however, and is given little chance of acceptance.

Wehrier characterized the various opposition proposals as tantamount to “a sort of amnesty.” Nevertheless, there appears to be a considerable number of Bundestag deputies who prefer to allow the statute of limitations extended twice in the past 20 years to expire, thereby conferring immunity on war criminals whose whereabouts are presently unknown. Wehner said he was astonished that such sentiments should exist. “in a country where a growing number of books and records demand tough counter action before a threat materializes.”

Heinz Galinski, chairman of West Berlin’s Jewish community, said he suspected the Ehrhard proposal was intended to relegate Nazi war crimes to the category of “trifles and petty cases.” He said that gave rise to fear that the effort to continue the prosecution of Nazi criminals may not command a parliamentary majority.

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