Evading responsibility for (too) long

As time passes, the Nazis criminals that escaped from the law in the post-war years trials might be left unpunished due to their old age.

The Nuremberg trials convicted Nazi collaborators for their crimes during the Second World War. But some of them escaped from Germany and were able to live out their life as free men and women, away from the suffering that they caused.

Hidden Nazis

They were difficult to trace down because they obviously changed their name, or they were protected and assisted in their escape. This was for example the case of Klaus Barbie, who worked in the gestapo police in Lyon.

The American government kept him safe after the war because he possessed important information on French communist parties. Sadly, it also kept him from facing justice for many years. He spent years in Bolivia before he was traced by Nazi hunters, and was tried in 1987 in France, the very place where he tortured Jews.

Nazi hunters, people dedicated to finding the remaining Nazis hiding mostly in American countries, were able to trail some of them thanks to meticulous work. Examples include Jakiw Palij, a former labor camp guard who lived in the USA before he was discovered in 2003. What gave him away is that his name figured on an archived Nazi record. As for the guard Friedrich Karl Berger, he was discovered because his name was on a document found on a sunken Nazi ship.

Tedious trials

The advanced age and health condition of the criminals make the trials complex. The sessions in court are short and limited, as shown be the recent case of Bruno Dey, also a former guard, who was tried this last summer.

Unfortunately, some die before they can face their crimes. Laszlo Csatary died in 2013 at 98 years old, just days before his trial would start, after spending decades living as an art dealer in Canada. Similarly, Oskar Groening, known as the bookkeeper of Auschwitz, died in 2018 at aged 93 before the trial could start.

This points to the urgency of acting quickly when Nazis are located, something that host countries are not always good at. In Barbie’s case, it took about 20 years before Bolivia agreed to turn him to France, where he could symbolically be tried.

Another obstacle that time brings is that there is not enough material. Less witnesses are available, and some Nazis walk away free because of a lack of evidence. There is also the fact that most of them will say that they were just doing their job. They don’t consider themselves criminals, and won’t confess, which complicates things.

Nazi hunting in the popular culture

The subject of Nazi hunting is accessible through the work of hunters publishing books and doing interviews. The case of the notorious Adolf Eichmann and how he was found in Argentina and tried inspired a movie (Operation Finale) and a book.

More recently, the controverted TV series Hunters placed this aspect of history in the popular culture. It was maybe an attempt to honor the victims of the Holocaust despite the very frustrating fact in the 1970s, Nazis were still free out there. Or it might just have been in order to popularize the subject, as it is inspired by the story of real Nazi Hunters during the Cold War in New York. Either way, the awareness raised certainly helps with bringing into light this part of the legacy of the Holocaust, and how it is dealt with.

Since the remaining fugitive Nazi will soon all be dead, this might well be the only way to outline their crimes and expose them. It would be a part of pursuing the mission behind the phrase “Never again”. Artistic and academic projects are becoming necessary to acknowledge this historical heritage, since the bureaucratic justice failed and will fail to punish most of the perpetrators.

“Part of the problem [mass murders still happening after the Holocaust] is that so few of the people who were involved in these crimes were actually held accountable.” That is how Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi hunter, concludes his interview. It justly shows how a punishment, even post-mortem, is needed.

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