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Former Nazis Growing Old and Convictions Are Becoming Harder to Obtain

July 10, 1968
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The immutable laws of nature are having an effect on efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. The criminals and those who prosecute them or are summoned to give evidence in court are growing old and as a result convictions are increasingly difficult to obtain. The age factor may also settle the matter of the statute of limitations on Nazis accused of murder which is to go into effect on Dec. 31, 1969. Indications are that it will not be postponed.

The ravages of time on Nazi hunters and hunted alike was brought home last week by the death in Frankfurt of Fritz Bauer at the age of 64. Mr. Bauer, a Jew and a former Stuttgart judge, escaped twice from the Nazis and devoted his life after World War II to bringing Nazis to justice. As chief prosecutor for the State of Hesse, he masterminded the 1964-65 Auschwitz death camp trials in which one of the convicted men was freed because of his advanced age and illness, Mr. Bauer left half of his estate for youth projects in Israel and Poland.

Two days before Mr. Bauer’s death the trial of 66-year-old Fritz Beckerle, the wartime Nazi minister in Bulgaria, was suspended because of the defendant’s illness. Mr. Beckerle is charged with participation in the mass deportation and murder of Bulgarian Jews. His trial may not be resumed because of his age and physical condition.

But in Cologne today, a jury passed prison sentences on two former Nazis convicted of the murder of at least 2,000 Jewish men, women and children in Mitau, Lithuania in July, 1941. Alfred Becu, 66, received three years at hard labor. Fifty-four year-old Wilhelm Abelt, a police officer, got 18 months. Nevertheless, German judges are finding it increasingly difficult to convict because witnesses are aging, sometimes unable to travel and often have faulty memories. Former Justice Minister Ewald Bucher said recently that the time was coming when judges could only acquit men who, though clearly guilty, had outlived crucial evidence.

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