Germany reopens probes of hundreds of suspected former Nazi death camp guards
German prosecutors have opened investigations into hundreds of former Nazi concentration camp guards, the youngest of whom is now in his 80s, the Associated Press reports. The reopened investigations follow the successful prosecution of John Demjanjuk, the retired American auto worker convicted last May by a Munich court on 28,060 counts of accessory to murder for his tenure as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland in 1943.
Demjanjuk, 91, was sentenced to five years prison, but has appealed his conviction; he currently remains free in southern Germany while awaiting the decision of the appeals court. But German prosecutors believe that his conviction, if it stands, could make way for the establishment of a new legal precedent. They believe Demjajuk’s conviction will permit them to prosecute other former Nazi death camp guards on accessory-to-murder charges, rather than specific murder charges based on their tenures at the camps.
Deported from the United States to Germany in 2009, Demjanjuk, 91, «was convicted in May of 28,060 counts of accessory to murder for serving as a guard at the Sobibor death camp,» following an 18-month trial, the Associated Press report states, nothing that the case marked «the first time prosecutors were able to convict someone in a Nazi-era case without direct evidence that the suspect participated in a specific killing.»
«In bringing Demjanjuk to trial, Munich prosecutors argued that if they could prove he was a guard at a camp like Sobibor, which had been established for the sole purpose of extermination, it would be enough to convict him of being an accessory to murder,» the report continued.
Kurt Schrimm, the head of the German prosecutors’ office, «said his office was poring over its files to see if others fit into the same category as Demjanjuk,» the AP reported. «He could not give an exact figure, but said there were probably ‘less than 1,000’ possible suspects living in Germany and elsewhere who could face prosecution.»
As yet unclear, the AP report said, is «whether the Demjanjuk precedent could be extended to guards of Nazi camps where thousands died but whose sole purpose was not necessarily murder.»
The legal precedent established in the Demjanjuk case could make for «a very interesting final chapter,» Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi hunter with the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles. «This has tremendous implications, even at this late date.»