LONDON (Aug. 1)
A government panel’s recommendation to allow Britain to pursue one-time Nazi war criminals more aggressively has led to rancorous and even slanderous debate in the British press.
Initial newspaper editorials welcomed the Parliamentary War Crimes Inquiry Report, which recommended changing British law to prosecute alleged World War II criminals who became British citizens after the war.
The report says that the changes would allow the immediate prosecution of three people living in Britain, and that at least 75 other cases warrant further investigation.
The Independent and Guardian newspapers came out strongly in favor of the recommendations, as did a columnist for the Daily Mail.
However, Jewish columnists in the Standard and Times have argued against the trials, as have various members of Parliament in letters to editors.
The writers fear over-zealous prosecutors miscarrying justice. They question the morality of pursuing old men for 40-year-old crimes.
The most scurrilous attacks on the Inquiry Report appeared in the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Telegraph.
In the Sunday Telegraph, a columnist called the board’s recommendations “an affront to the very heart of English law and even of English life” and labeled Jewish Parliament member Greville Janner as “zealous.”
The Daily Telegraph columnist went even further, calling Jewish activists “terrifying in their fanaticism and unappeasable thirst for vengeance” in their pursuit of war criminals and complaints over the Carmelite convent still in place at the site of the Auschwitz death camp.
The press debate is complicating matters for community leaders, who are hoping to avoid a repetition of the inter-communal conflict that has accompanied Nazi prosecution in other countries.
In Canada, Australia and the United States, pursuit of war criminals from Eastern Europe has led to tension between Jews and local Ukrainian and Baltic communities.
Home Secretary Douglas Hurd said he would delay a decision on the board recommendations until both houses of Parliament return and debate the issue in the autumn.
But supporters and opponents of the measure seem sure it will pass, based on its strong wording and the bipartisan participation of the inquiry board’s 100 members.