(JTA) — A Nazi crimes agency in Germany will launch an investigation of 50 alleged former Auschwitz guards living in the country.
Following a precedent set by the successful case in 2011 against John Demjanjuk, the Central Office for Clarification of Nazi Crimes will begin reviewing cases in the coming weeks, according to reports from the German WAZ media group. The aim is to prosecute the individuals on charges of accessory to murder.
The alleged guards, all about 90 years old, live throughout the country, the reports said.
"The renewed effort to bring camp guards to trial is a very positive step, which hopefully will yield positive practical results," Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JTA in an email. But given the age of the suspects, he added, "the legal process will have to be expedited to the extent that that can be done."
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Operation Last Chance, which has been stepped up again in Germany as a result of the Demjanjuk verdict, offers rewards for information leading to the conviction of Nazi war criminals.
Kurt Schrimm, who heads the Ludwigsburg investigative agency, recently told Oberfalz.net that the Demjanjuk case boosted efforts to find former camp guards. Demjanjuk, who was convicted in 2011 as an accessory to the murder of nearly 29,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp in Poland, was sentenced to five years in prison. The case was on appeal when he died in March 2012.
The Demjanjuk case allowed courts to go after war criminals who enabled others to commit murder. There were no direct witnesses to Demjanjuk having physically committed murder himself.
Schrimm told reporters Sunday that now "any job in a concentration camp is sufficient evidence towards a conviction as accessory to murder."
Zuroff told JTA he had met with representatives of the Central Office for Clarification of Nazi Crimes in Ludwigsburg and they agreed that the Demjanjuk case "should be the basis to bring death camp guards and members of the Einsatzgruppen [mobile killing squads] to trial."
The Ludwigsburg office conducts investigations and presents evidence to the court but does not file charges.