This week's launch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's most recent campaign, which offers rewards to the German public for submitting information that could lead to the apprehension of the last remaining Nazi war criminals, was met with limited optimism. Some legal experts branded the late move to bring surviving suspects to trial as questionable, given past leniency shown to high-ranking individuals in the Holocaust machinery.
But despite the lukewarm response, the initiative, which began on Tuesday, already seems to be paying off. According to Efraim Zuroff, director at the organization's Jerusalem office, the hotline is already receiving between 30 and 40 calls a day. Though many of the calls are from individuals expressing support for the project, there have also been over a dozen seemingly legitimate tip-offs.
The next step will involve differentiating between bogus leads and authentic ones. "There will be a lengthy filtering process," Zuroff told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Friday. "In our experience, only a fraction of the calls we get actually turn into tangible leads. Since the launch of Operation Last Chance II in 2011, we've received as many as 5,000 calls and emails, and only 106 names have actually been turned over to prosecutors."
The posters depict the entrance gate of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and the slogan, "Late. But not too late," and have been put up in three major German cities: Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne. They also offer rewards of up to 25,000 ($33,000) for information, which may be a motivating factor for those responding to the campaign, said Zuroff. "Naturally, there will be some respondents interested in the monetary reward. But the money is primarily a tool for publicity," he added.
The Center is targeting both death camp guards and members of the Einsatzgruppen, squads that were composed primarily of SS and police personnel. Zuroff, who coordinates the Center's research of Nazi war criminals, suggests that there could still be as many as 120 living in Germany, with only roughly half of those still physically able to stand trial.
Operation Last Chance II was launched two years ago in an attempt to step up prosecutions following a legal precedent set by the 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk, found guilty by a Munich court of being an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews while he was a guard at Sobibor in occupied Poland.
The ruling allowed prosecutors to reopen hundreds of investigations into former death camp guards, giving them the option to prosecute individuals as accessories to murder, even if they could not prove the defendants personally killed anyone.