BERLIN (JTA) — The Simon Wiesenthal Center praised steps taken by German police in three states against at least nine suspected Auschwitz guards.
Three were arrested Thursday and imprisoned near Stuttgart. The names of up to 30 Auschwitz guards recommended for prosecution were turned over to local prosecutors by the chief German agency for the investigation of Nazi war crimes in September 2013.
According to news reports, the action is the largest against alleged Nazi war criminals in decades.
The Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter, Israel Director Efraim Zuroff, welcomed the police action and urged the police to expedite their efforts to bring the last living Holocaust perpetrators to justice.
Police in Baden-Württemberg detained three alleged former SS guards suspected of being involved in the murder of deportees at the death camp. They range in age from 88 to 94. The men, whose homes also were searched Wednesday, underwent medical exams and were remanded to the prison hospital where they will be held while awaiting trial. Two of the men are reported to be unfit to withstand questioning.
Police also searched homes of other suspects in several towns across Germany and confiscated potential evidence. According to a report in the German newspaper Die Welt, an 88-year-old suspect confirmed he had been in Auschwitz but denied he had been involved in murdering prisoners there.
Clues leading to some of the suspects came from the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in Ludwigsburg, which made a major push to identify former death camp guards after the conviction of John Demjanjuk in 2011 for his role in the murders of nearly 30,000 Jews in the Sobibor death camp in Poland.
The conviction, which was on appeal when Demjanjuk died in March 2012, opened the door for murder prosecution for anyone proven to have been a death camp guard.
Zuroff, who last fall renewed the Operation Last Chance campaign to find the last Nazi war criminals, told JTA that this week’s arrests were “a way of reminding people that justice can still be obtained.”
“These are the last people on earth who deserve any sympathy since they had no sympathy whatsoever for their innocent victims, some of whom were older than they are today,” he said.