Nazi hunters launch German campaign to nab war criminals

An Operation Last Chance placard reading "Late, but not too late" is displayed in Berlin on Tuesday.
(Gero Breloer / Associated Press)

On a mission to hunt down long-elusive Nazi fugitives, Operation Last Chance was launched in major German cities Tuesday by the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The center’s director for Israel, Efraim Zuroff, pronounced the quest to bring the remaining war criminals to justice during a news conference in Berlin and in a campaign manifesto issued in Jerusalem.

Some 2,000 posters have been affixed to walls, billboards and transit stops in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne, offering rewards of as much as 25,000 euros ($33,000) for information resulting in the capture, conviction and years-long incarceration of those who provided the manpower for the Holocaust’s killing machines.


The campaign aims to ferret out what Zuroff said are at least 60 Nazi officials still alive and in sufficiently good health to be prosecuted. The posters, displaying a chilling black-and-white image of the railroad entrance to the World War II-era Auschwitz death camp, declare that the quest for justice is “Late, but not too late.”

The reinvigorated effort to bring fugitives to justice was inspired by the 2011 conviction of Ukrainian-born John [nee Ivan] Demjanjuk on thousands of counts of complicity in murder for the deaths that occurred among Jewish prisoners during his service at the Treblinka, Majdanek and Sobibor death camps. His conviction in a Munich courtroom, which Demjanjuk was appealing when he died at 91 last year, was the first achieved without eyewitness testimony to a direct role in the killings.

“Ivan Demjanjuk was the first Holocaust perpetrator to be convicted in Germany in decades solely on the basis of his service in a death camp. This conviction paves the way for additional prosecutions of individuals who served in death camps, as well as the members of the Einsatzgruppen,” Zuroff said, referring to the Nazi regime’s mobile killing units.

Zuroff, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter since the 2005 death of the organization’s founder, said there were five key objectives in the effort to locate and prosecute the remaining fugitives:

--The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers.
--Old age should not afford immunity to murderers.
--Every Nazi victim deserves that an effort be made to hold their killers accountable.
--The operation will serve as a reminder of the importance of Holocaust crimes and a warning to contemporary anti-Semites and racists.
--Trials are helpful in the ongoing struggle against Holocaust denial and distortion.


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