Undeterred by dwindling numbers of living suspects, Germany’s top Nazi hunter is determined to keep tracking down criminals involved in Hitler’s murder machine for another decade.
As a handful of new Auschwitz-related trials get underway, Jens Rommel says his work is getting more difficult every year and yields only modest results. But it still matters.
“We help to make sure these crimes don’t disappear into history and that they have a relevance today … There is still a lot of work to do,” said Rommel, no relation to Hitler’s Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
Aging suspects, most of whom deny guilt, are growing frail, making the race to prosecute them all the more pressing.
Germany’s state justice ministers last year gave Rommel’s Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes up to 10 more years to continue its investigative work, before it is turned into a documentation center.
The 2011 conviction of Sobibor death camp guard John Demjanjuk also gave it new legal territory to explore – it was the first time that involvement in a death camp was seen as sufficient grounds for culpability even without proof of a specific crime.
“Even with no hard proof of a specific deed, being a wheel in the machinery of a camp is now punishable,” said Rommel.
Demjanjuk’s conviction 70 years after the crimes did not come too late for Dutch Jew David van Huiden whose parents and sister died in Sobibor’s gas chambers.
“It’s never too late because the crimes committed are so overwhelmingly heavy that even today nobody could understand how this could happen in a civilized society,” said the 84-year-old who sat through some of the trial.
The case widened the net of possible suspects and triggered a wave of new investigations into guards, medics and other camp workers which has led to the current trials.
The same legal argument was used to convict Oskar Groening, the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz” last year and to charge camp guard Reinhold Hanning, on trial in Detmold.
Auschwitz guard Ernst Tremmel is to go on trial near Frankfurt in April while a case against Auschwitz medic, Hubert Zafke, this month stalled due to his frail health. Both are over 90.
Read more here.