A worthy final hunt for Holocaust criminals

Kansas City StarJuly 31, 2013 

The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star:

Because there should never be a statute of limitations on genocide, Nazi hunters are launching what they call a “last chance” search for Holocaust-era war criminals. Everyone who cares about history and justice should wish them success.

This is the final push in what the Simon Wiesenthal Center called its “Operation Last Chance II” campaign, begun a year and a half ago.

“This is really it,” said Efraim Zuroff, head of the Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office. “We have two or three years maximum, that’s all.”

Most primary Nazi leaders responsible for the murder of 6 million Jews and millions of others in World War II either perished in the war or were put on trial later.

But many of Germany’s lower-level Nazi officials escaped and have been the target of searches – some of them successful – for decades.

Indeed, the effort to find them has been remarkably persistent, even if victory has been intermittent. In June, two suspected Nazi war criminals were arrested. In Hungary, 98-year-old Laszlo Csatary was taken into custody and charged with helping to deport Jews to the infamous Auschwitz death camp in Poland. He is accused of assisting in the murder of 15,700 Jews, though he denies the allegations. And in Germany, a suspected former Auschwitz guard, Hans Lipschis, 93, also was arrested in June.

It’s uncertain exactly how many more now-elderly Nazis are still living beyond the reach of the law, but even if it’s only a handful, the search for them is worth the effort in the interest of justice and a full historical accounting of how remarkably close the murderous Hitler regime came to realizing its astonishing goal of eradicating European Jewry.

Zuroff estimates there may be as many as 60 former Nazis still alive and well enough to go on trial. It would be satisfying to round them all up, but justice in a situation like this is served case by case.

The hunt for old Nazis is not simply about what happened 70 years ago. It’s also about the proper recording of history and about stemming a renewed tide of anti-Jewish sentiment and actions around the world.

Holocaust deniers continue to spread their willfully hateful poison in various ways, and this kind of know-nothingism feeds the ignorance of such young neo-Nazis as Kristian Vikernes, a Norwegian black metal rocker who was arrested recently in France on suspicion of preparing a major terrorist act.

And around the world there is what Holocaust scholar and author Alvin H. Rosenfeld of Indiana University calls “resurgent antisemitism,” which is also the title of his important but distressing new book about anti-Jewish developments in many places around the world.

In it, he argues that because there already has been a first Holocaust – which seemed unthinkable at the time – there now is a greater possibility of a second.

Rounding up old Nazis and holding them accountable for their part in the evil of the Holocaust may remind a forgetful world of what happened in the 1940s and may persuade authorities to do what they can now to prevent something similar from happening again.

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