Chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, blogs on why it's important that we still hunt and prosecute Nazi war criminals 70 years after the end of the Holocaust.
On January 27, as we mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I think that we all have to ask ourselves not whether to remember, but what to remember. And the answer to this question is not as simple as it appears to be. As we mark the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of the largest of the Nazi death camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau, I think that it would be particularly appropriate to concentrate on the one issue which, unlike the other aspects of Holocaust remembrance, education, and commemoration, will no longer be relevant within a relatively short time.
I am referring to the efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice, which contrary to all expectations continues to this day. And if we ask ourselves, how is it possible that seventy years after the end of World War II, it is still possible to bring to justice Holocaust perpetrators, there are two major answers. One is the enormous scope of the crime, which was carried out in every single country in Europe, with the exception of the UK and the six neutral states (Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey) and required the active involvement of hundreds of thousands of perpetrators, not only Germans and Austrians, but numerous local collaborators as well, many of whom were relatively young at the time. And the second reason is the extension of life expectancy, which has enabled individuals to live far longer than their predecessors.
As a result, a surprising number of Holocaust perpetrators are still alive and in reasonably good health. There is no reason to ignore them because they were born many years ago. In that respect, the passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers and old age should not afford protection to murderers. They are, moreover, the last people on earth who deserve any sympathy, since they had none for their innocent victims, some of whom were even older than they are today.
Bringing such persons to trial sends a powerful message about the enormity and the severit of Holocaust crimes, a message that seems increasingly important, the more time that passes since they were committed.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. His most recent book is Operation Last Chance; One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice. His websites are www.operationlastchance.org and www.wiesenthal.com. He can be followed on Facebook and Twitter @EZuroff.