How long before we can forgive? Nazi-Hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff responds

June 30, 2021

Lana Hart's op-ed ("How long before we can forgive?" June 7) raised many important questions regarding the justice system and the attitude toward criminal offenders, among them the recently-deceased former Waffen-SS officer Willi Huber, who achieved hero status among local skiers for his contribution to the establishment of the skiing facilities on Mt. Hutt. Ms. Hart brings several examples of people punished for their behavior and a wide range of responses by the criminals to their punishments. And while she notes the importance of the severity of the original wrongdoing in determining a person's punishment, and the principle of proportionality, she fails to understand the significance of Huber's crimes and fails to attribute sufficient importance to his lack of remorse and his obvious adulation for the leader of the most genocidal regime in human history.

When elderly Nazi war criminals are brought to trial these days, the obvious question is whether such trials serve any important purpose, so many years after the crimes were committed when the suspects are frail and elderly. So as a person who has had to answer those questions time and again, I want to share my response with the readers in New Zealand, who have never had to face such dilemmas, since their government is the only Anglo-Saxon country which admitted suspected Nazi war criminals which refused to take legal action against them.

  • The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the perpetrators. Had they been prosecuted  immediately after they committed the crimes, it would only have been natural, but the fact that they had eluded justice for decades (for whatever reason) does not in any way reduce their guilt.

  • Old age should not afford protection for those who committed such heinous crimes. Just because a person was able to reach a very advanced age, should not protect them from prosecution. The fact that a person is 90 or 95 or even older, does not turn a murderer into one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

  • We owe it to the victims and their families to bring those guilty of turning innocent men, women, and children into victims, just because they were categorized as "enemies of the Reich," to make a maximum effort to hold those guilty accountable for their crimes.
  • These trials send a powerful message that if you commit such crimes, even decades later, you might be held accountable. This is important because it sends  a message to future genocidists and anyone contemplating joining fundamentalist terrorist groups, that while conventional justice is never perfect, the hunts for such criminals go on as long as any of them are still alive.  
  • These trials play an important role in the fight against Holocaust denial and distortion. The latter has become a serious problem throughout post-Communist Eastern Europe, where governments seek to hide the participation of their nationals in Holocaust crimes. The former remains a serious problem in Arab and Moslem lands, where it is often government-sponsored and financed.      
  • These are the last people on earth who deserve any sympathy, since they had no sympathy on their victims, men, women, and children, some of whom were even older than they are today. When they appear in court these days, they naturally look old and frail (and many try very hard to look even weaker than they actually are), but they didn't commit the crimes they are accused of when they were elderly, but rather many years ago at the height of their physical strength and prowess.
  • Contrary to what many people think or assume, there never was a case of a German or Austrian who was executed for refusing to murder Jews. In many cases, if a person did not want to participate in executions, they could refuse to do so, without any serious penalties.
  • One final point. In all the cases that I have helped facilitate prosecution by finding the perpetrator, there has not been a single defendant, who ever of his or her own volition, expressed any regret or remorse.
Very often, the families of the suspects, accompany them to their trials, and try to create sympathy for them. Invariably, however, the victims have no family members alive who can do so, since they too were murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators. Consider this article as written by their emissary.
 
Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director  of the Center's Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs. He serves on the International Council of the Holocaust Foundation.
Powered by Blackbaud
nonprofit software