BERLIN (JTA) — Renewed efforts to prosecute the last living Nazi war criminals will be launched in Berlin this fall.
The conviction last spring of John Demjanjuk, 91, as an accessory to murder at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland has paved the way for the reopening of hundreds of other cases, according to Efraim Zuroff, Jerusalem-based chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Zuroff met in August with German investigator Kurt Schrimm, head of the Ludwigsburg-based Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, to discuss the possibility of speeding up the investigations. He learned that Ludwigsburg
already was committed to doing that and they agreed that the center would cooperate with German government offices in the endeavor.
"My understanding was that in the wake of the [Demjanjuk] verdict, there was enormous potential for the prosecution of individuals who had served in the four ‘pure’ death camps — Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Chelmno — as well as in the Einsatzgruppen," the mobile killing squads, Zuroff told JTA. "Previously the German prosecutors only brought cases in which they could find evidence of a specific crime with a specific victim, but in the wake of the Demjanjuk conviction, that no longer had to be the case."
Given the apparent eagerness of German prosecutors to pursue the last evaders of justice, Zuroff is restarting "Operation Last Chance," a last-ditch effort to track down Nazi war criminals wherever they may be. The project offers rewards for information on suspects. Zuroff told JTA that a cooperation was agreed upon in Ludwigsburg that has "paved the way for the launching of our new project in Berlin within the next two months."
Though Demjanjuk is appealing his conviction, the verdict already has "created the possibility to prosecute perhaps as many as several dozen Holocaust perpetrators who served in the most lethal Nazi installations and units, and basically spent as much as two years carrying out mass murder on practically a daily basis," Zuroff said.
"These were the persons who carried out the major bulk of the mass murder of European Jews during the Holocaust — practically half of the approximately 6 million Jewish victims."