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04/11/2013

German prosecutors to investigate 50 Auschwitz guards

Nearly seven decades after the end of World War II, German prosecutors say they found a list of 50 former Auschwitz guards still alive in Germany and are looking into launching prosecutions for their role in the horrors that took place at the infamous death camp.

"In view of the monstrosity of these crimes one owes it to the survivors and the victims not to simply say 'a certain time has passed, it should be swept under the carpet,'" Kurt Schrimm, the head of the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes, told Der Spiegel.

The news comes at an especially poigant time, as Canadian Jews marked Holocaust Memorial Day this week with ceremonies and activities in various cities across the country to remember the six million Jews killed in the Nazi extermination campaign.

Der Speigel reported that Schrimm's office received the list of names of guards at the infamous death camp from the museum at the memorial site.

The  New York Times in its report added that his staff also searched old court records and documents looking for names, travelling to Poland last year to deepen their investigation.

"Auschwitz isn't our only goal, we're also checking on the guards of the other extermination camps," Schrimm told Der Spiegel.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center which tracks Nazi war criminals also announced it would launch a new  campaign for Operation Last Chance II,  offering rewards for information leading to the prosecution of death camp guards and Einsatzgruppen members.

Schrimm explained to Der Spiegel that his office is using a "recent re-interpretation of German criminal law" in order to go after those who may have been small but important cogs in the Holocaust killing machine and hid "behind the argument that they were following orders."

But even with the names of the guards, prosecution -- much less conviction -- could be slow and uncertain.

Schrimm told Der Spiegel his office would first have to launch preliminary investigations to see which of the 50 Auschwitz guards were "healthy enough and eligible" to stand trial. 

The cases would then be handed over to regional state prosecutors' offices. Der Spiegel reports that German courts have convicted around 6,650 Nazi war criminals in 36,000 trials since 1947, but that most of those convictions occurred before 1950.

It also said that the overwhelming number of sentences amounted to less than one year in jail.

Julian Sher is a foreign affairs and investigative journalist with the Star. He can be reached at jsher@thestar.ca and on Twitter at @juliansher 

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