Last-ditch operation to catch Nazi war criminals is launched


BERLIN (JTA) – A last-ditch effort to bring Nazi war criminals to justice in Germany was launched in Berlin.

Operation Last Chance II, announced Wednesday, follows up on the search for the last remaining unpunished Nazis launched by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office in 2006, said Efraim Zuroff, Jerusalem-based chief Nazi hunter for the organization, at a news conference hosted by the German Bundestag.

A mobile hotline has been established in Germany (+49-1573-494-7307). A reward of up to 25,000 euro, about $32,500, will be offered in stages for those who provide information: 5,000 euro if the person is indicted, another 5,000 euro if the person is convicted, and 100 euro for every day the person sits in jail up to 150 days, Zuroff said.

There are known Nazis living out their years without facing justice, Zuroff said, adding that he was especially keen to see three Germans brought to justice: Klaas Carl Faber, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1947 in Holland, and escaped jail in 1952 and fled to Germany, where as a German citizen he was protected from extradition; Soreren Kam, who was indicted in Denmark for the 1943 murder of a Danish anti-Nazi newspaper editor; and Gerhard Sommer, who was convicted in absentia in Italy of murder in the massacre of 560 civilians and has been under investigation since 2002.

“The passage of time in no way relieves the guilt of the killers,” said Zuroff, whose 2009 book on the Last Chance project has just been translated into German. “Turning 90 doesn’t make a murderer into a righteous gentile.”

The Last Chance program was given a shot in the arm from the conviction last May of John Demjanjuk, 91, as an accessory to murder at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland. 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, Zuroff explained.

Earlier this year, Zuroff signed a cooperation agreement with the Ludwigsburg-based Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes.

German prosecutors reportedly said in October that the conviction of Demjanjuk paved the way for reopening hundreds of similar cases in which no specific crime or victim could be pinned on the defendant, but where there was a great likelihood of the accused having been a part of the killing machine.

Demjanjuk is appealing his conviction, and Zuroff admitted that it would “be a disaster if he wins his appeal. He said it would "ruin any hope” of bringing some war criminals to justice.

Recommended from JTA