Operation Last Chance Nazi Hunters More Than Double Reward to $25,000
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has more than doubled its reward for information leading to the capture of Nazi war criminals from $10,000 to $25,000 under its "Operation Last Chance" campaign to bring the perpetrators to justice before they die of old age.
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the center, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that a Jewish donor from the US had provided the funding in the last two weeks to boost the standard reward offer.
"We've been able to increase the prize now for the regular cases from $10,000 to $25,000," Zuroff said. "The cash offer has proven very successful because without it we wouldnt have got one-hundredth of the attention that we got and it's the media attention that ultimately yields the information."
He said that since Operation Last Chance was set up in 2002, the best information had come from people who didn't want the money. The Center had only ever paid the reward on one occasion, and then only half of it, $5,000.
The increase in the reward comes weeks after the Wiesenthal Center extended its campaign to South America to hunt the criminals and collaborators who escaped there after World War II.
Zuroff said there were "at least dozens" of Nazi war criminals still alive today in South America, mostly in Argentina but also in Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay.
New Leads in South America
"We're very encouraged by the response in South America, both on the government level and the popular level in terms of the response of people to our appeal for information," said Zuroff. "We've gotten hundreds of e-mails, phone calls, messages and faxes."
War criminals who may be in South America include one of the Wiesenthal Center's 10 Most Wanted, Austrian SS medic Aribert Heim , also known as Doctor Death, who would now be 93.
Heim served as a medical doctor in the concentration camps of Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Mauthausen, and camp survivors say he murdered hundreds of inmates by administering lethal injections of phenol to their hearts and by other torturous killing methods.
The Wiesenthal Center said last September that there was strong evidence he was still alive. His location is unknown and he could be in Spain too.
Before Operation Last Chance set up its South American operation in November 2007, it had already yielded the names of 488 suspects from 20 different countries, 99 of which have been submitted to local prosecutors, says the Center.
The information has led to three arrest warrants and two extradition requests as well as dozens of investigations.
The perpetrators who were in senior positions during the Holocaust and who managed to escape prosecution are already dead, so Zuroff's campaign is targeting the surviving helpers, lower level officials, guards and soldiers who took part in the genocide.
Hundreds or Thousands of Holocaust Helpers Still Alive
"The number is quite large, at least hundreds if not thousands. If you examine the manner in which the final solution was implemented you see very clearly that the number of people involved was enormous and it wasnt only Germans and Austrians," said Zuroff.
"In every single country they had many local helpers, in countries in Eastern Europe many of these helpers actually participated in murder. Some of these people were relatively young at the time. With the advances of modern medicine people live longer, and consequently many of them are alive and healthy enough to be put on trial."
Zuroff criticized justice authorities in Germany, which last year failed to obtain any convictions or file any indictments of war criminals. It was the first "failing grade" the Wiesenthal Center has given Germany since 2001 when it first published status reports on investigations into Nazi war criminals worldwide.
"In Germany they are treating these cases as if they have all the time in the world to reach a verdict and that's simply not the case," said Zuroff.
He called Austria a "paradise for Nazi war criminals."
"Austria has the worst record. If you compare the number of people involved, the potential for prosecution and what's been done, Austria is just a total embarrassment."
Never Too Late
He said the argument that Nazi war criminals are now too old to stand trial isn't acceptable.
"The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the perpetrator. If we were to set a chronological limit on prosecution we would be saying that you could get away with genocide, which is morally outrageous," said Zuroff.
"We owe it to the victims to hold the perpetrators accountable. If someone murdered your grandmother and the murderer is only found 50 years later, it wouldn't very much concern you if this person was now elderly.
"You'd want him or her punished for the obvious reason that they murdered your grandmother. Every one of those victims was someone's grandmother or grandfather, son or daughter, and that's the bottom line."