'Not Too Late' Nazi Hunters Launch Poster Campaign

The Simon Wiesenthal Center will hang posters in major German cities next week as part of its campaign to bring surviving Nazi war criminals to justice almost 70 years after the end of World War II. It is offering rewards of up to €25,000 for information.
A photo taken in May 1944 on the platform at the entrance of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.

A photo taken in May 1944 on the platform at the entrance of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.

Foto: AFP/ Yad Vashem Archives

The Simon Wiesenthal Center said on Tuesday it was launching a poster campaign in major German cities, calling on the public for information to help it track down surviving Nazi war criminals.

The posters, which will go up on July 23, will feature a photo of the entrance to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and the slogan, "Late. But not too late! Operation Last Chance II."

The Wiesenthal Center is offering rewards of up to €25,000 ($33,000) for information leading to arrests and prosecutions. The posters will appear in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne and will have a hotline number for people to call if they have information.

Operation Last Chance II was launched in December 2011 to help step up prosecutions following a legal precedent set by the conviction that year 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.

'Contribution Against Forgetfulness'

Legal experts say the Demjanjuk verdict in a Munich court paved the way for convictions of other surviving death camp guards. In what lawyers called a significant reinterpretation of the law, the court ruled that prosecutors no longer need to establish culpability in specific murders to secure a conviction. Having been a guard in a death camp is now seen as proof enough of having assisted in murder.

"Every single prosecution is an important reminder that justice can still be achieved for the victims of the Holocaust," said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office.

"This also is an important contribution against forgetfulness of future generations. The advanced age of the perpetrators should not be a reason to discontinue prosecution, since the passage of time in no way diminishes their guilt, and old age should not protect murderers."

Nazi hunters welcomed the prosecution last month in Hungary of 98-year-old Laszlo Csatary for helping to deport Jews to Auschwitz and the arrest in Germany of Hans Lipschis,  a suspected former guard at Auschwitz.

Zuroff, a historian, coordinates the Center's research into Nazi war crimes and organizes its efforts to track down war criminals.

The Wiesenthal Center's Operation Last Chance campaign was first introduced in 2002.

Lipschis is among 50 Auschwitz guards  who are still alive in Germany today and who are now being investigated following the Demjanjuk conviction.

Some legal experts say Germany's late rush to bring the surviving lower-ranking suspects to trial looks implausible given the lenience shown for decades to people who were in more senior positions in the Holocaust machinery, most of whom are now dead.

In the 1960s and 1970s, German courts argued that the top Nazi leadership was principally to blame for the Holocaust and that people carrying out orders were bound by a chain of command and therefore had limited culpability.