"What took so long? So sorry but you had 76+ years to prosecute Nazi war criminals. This week you announced you would be charging a 100-year old Nazi in addition to a 95-year old secretary".
What took so long? So sorry, but you had 76+ years to prosecute Nazi war criminals. This week you announced you would be charging a 100-year old Nazi in addition to a 95-year old secretary.
Your prosecutors charged the 100-year-old man with 3,518 counts of being an accessory to murder at Sachsenhausen concentration camp from 1942 to 1945. In the other case, a 95-year old woman was also charged with accessory to murder for serving as the secretary of the SS commandant of the Stutthof concentration camp.
Yes. We all agree and expect they should be charged. That there is no statute of limitation to charging war criminals. And no one should ever get away with murder no matter their age - even at 100.
But dear Germany, it was not until 2011 that a new legal precedent was set in connection with Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk's conviction as accessory to some 28,000 murders at Sobibor. He died shortly after receiving sentence. Then, in 2015, you convicted 94-year-old Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening ('The Accountant of Auschwitz'). He also died before his sentence could be carried out because of a series of appeals.
It's now common knowledge and widely reported that fewer than 50 of the estimated 6,500 Auschwitz guards who served there over the years were ever convicted. And those are just the guards. What about the commanders, soldiers, cooks, railway engineers, crematoria construction workers, architects, logistics officials, administrative staff, maintenance personnel and daytime workers from surrounding villages? Who ordered the Zyklon-B canisters?
Multiply this idea by over 40,000 concentration and labour camps plus ghettos spread across Europe and you start getting the picture of just how many people got away with murder.The number of "participants" could be well into the hundreds of thousands and possibly, 500,000 or more.
We know that people had a choice. They did not have to participate in the killing machine. Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker who worked in the Warsaw Ghetto and saved 2,500 children recognized this basic fact herself. She said: "Heroes do extraordinary things. What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal".
I have visited the camps probably more than anyone should. I have walked nearly every inch of Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sachsenhausen, Stutthof, and Ravensbruck. I have seen the pain and torment in the eyes of survivors. To understand the magnitude of what took place in those camps between 1939 and 1945, we must peel back the layers to understand why mostly ordinary people directly or as accessories participated in murder.
So, pardon me Germany, but why had possibly hundreds of thousands of people who were accessory to murder not been brought to stand trial? Why did you wait this long for a what appears to be a final attempt at reckoning of justice? Unlike these perpetrators, the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of others did not have a chance to marry, raise families, and live to old age - like these Nazi war criminals whom you are now charging.
Should we be satisfied? We must ask these critical questions - not to relive this tragic past, but to ensure that it never ever happens again. And how can we be sure, dear Germany? After all, just yesterday you reported that antisemitism is becoming more socially acceptable again. You said that 2,275 antisemitic crimes have been registered up to January 2021. Some 55 of those acts were violent.
One wonders, therefore, if your population has really reconciled with its Nazi past? Had more Germans taken an interest in prosecuting more war criminals, could that have provided greater education and alleviated the growing antisemitic incidents? We do not know.
Had Germany moved faster and with greater conviction to prosecute Nazi war criminals, it might have had an impact on our own prosecutions in Canada. We began mobilizing in the 1980s to investigate war criminals. The Deschene Commission found 774 possible war criminals in the country. The list was whittled down to 20 strong possibilities. But legal stalemate after stalemate --including this week against a 96-year old accused war criminal - has seen very little justice served.
Everything that happens in one place has impact on another. This week's ruling in Poland against two academics who dared assert that there were some Polish citizens who may have been complicit in the Holocaust sent shockwaves around the world. It presents a chill to academic freedom and free speech itself. Holocaust research and action against its perpetrators must be central to ensuring nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again.
Prosecuting war criminals is essential, especially in this climate of rising antisemitism. This week was especially horrible as we bore witness to synagogues being vandalized and desecrated, a Jewish frat house spray-painted with swastikas and even eggs thrown at an Israeli flag hung from the balcony of a student dormitory. Worse, a TikTok video was circulating of an Orthodox man being chased by the very perpetrators who video-taped the incident.
Germany, you have made some efforts to combat antisemitism by appointing Felix Klein as a special commissioner in this regard. Also, you have been positive with respect to Israel. In particular, you correctly stood up for Israel's sovereignty against the International Criminal Court ruling this week. We keep this mind and acknowledge all positive steps you have undertaken.
At the same time, we need to ask you why have so many Nazis gotten away with murder?