Wiesenthal Center: Nazi war criminal probes nearly double from previous year

The number of ongoing investigations of suspected Nazi war criminals almost doubled from 2015 to 2016, according to an annual report released by the Simon Wiesenthal Center ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The status report, titled “Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals” covers the period of April 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016, and presents comprehensive statistics on the number of Holocaust perpetrators convicted and indicted, as well as figures on new and ongoing investigations all over the world.

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The report was authored by the center’s chief Nazi-hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff, who noted that the extension of life expectancy has made it possible to continue efforts to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice, even years after their crimes.

“We hope to help maximize those efforts despite numerous obstacles,” he said in a statement. “The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the murderers, nor should old age afford protection to those who committed such crimes. Some of their victims were even older than their tormentors are today. As Simon Wiesenthal frequently noted, we owe it to the victims to find their killers and hold them accountable.”

Wiesenthal, an Austrian Holocaust survivor and famed Nazi-hunter, died in his sleep at the age of 96 in his home in Vienna, but the work he dedicated his life to was continued by the center that had been founded in his name in 1977.

Since 2001, the center had released annual reports, monitoring progress in this field.

The latest report highlighted Germany as the country with the most significant and practical progress and achievement in prosecuting Nazi war criminals. During the recorded time period, one conviction was obtained, and two indictments were filed in Germany against individuals who had served in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

Zuroff explained that the progress in Germany had come about as the result of a change in the law instituted several years ago, which determined that suspected Holocaust perpetrators who served in death camps or Einsatzgruppen (paramilitary death squads), could be convicted of accessory to murder based on service alone; previously, prosecutors were required to prove that a suspect had committed a specific crime against a specific victim and that the crime had been motivated by racial hatred.

Italy, Denmark, the United States, Poland and Canada, were also listed among countries conducting ongoing investigations of suspected Holocaust perpetrators.

The report stated that between 2001 and 2016, 103 Nazi perpetrators have been convicted in court, the majority in Italy (46) and the United States (39). Those countries also filed the majority of the 103 indictments against Nazi criminals during the same period.

Zuroff allocated grades – ranging from A to F – to those countries which are dealing with this issue, as well as those which aren’t – but he thinks should be. The US and Germany were at the top of the list, both with an A grade, followed by Italy, which got a B.

Norway, Sweden, Lithuania and Ukraine all got F’s. The former two countries failed due to their refusal in principle to investigate, because of legal or ideological restrictions. Meanwhile Lithuania and Ukraine failed on the basis that though there are no legal obstacles in these countries to the investigation and prosecution of suspected Nazi war criminals, they have failed to do so, primarily due to an absence of political will and/or a lack of the requisite resources and/or expertise.

Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Great Britain, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Paraguay and Uruguay all received an X, meaning that they did not respond to a questionnaire sent to them by the center, but according to Zuroff they “clearly did not take any action whatsoever to investigate suspected Nazi war criminals during the period under review.”

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