No Statute of Limitations on Murder

After a long legal fight stretching over several decades, accused Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk was deported to Germany on Monday. There, he is to stand trial as an accessory to the murder of 29,000 people while a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp during World War 2.

Demjanjuk was born in the Ukraine, and joined the Soviet Army in 1940. He was taken prisoner by the Germans in

John Demjanjuk's German ID Card
John Demjanjuk's German ID Card

1942. He claims that he was held as a prisoner of war until the end of the war. Prosecutors in Germany claim that he collaborated with the Germans and became an SS concentration camp guard who ran the diesel engines that pumped gas into the gas chambers at Sobibor.

Demjanjuk immigrated to the United States in 1952 and became a naturalized citizen. In 1986, he was deported to Israel to stand trial on charges that he ran gas chambers at the Treblinka extermination camp. It was alleged that he had been a camp guard nicknamed “Ivan the Terrible” at Treblinka. He was convicted in 1988 and sentenced to death, but in 1993 his conviction was thrown out by the Israeli high court. The high court said that new evidence from the former Soviet Union indicated that “Ivan the Terrible”‘s real name was Ivan Marchenko. US officials had known this during his trial but had withheld the evidence, because Demjanjuk listed Marchenko as his mother’s maiden name. Demjanjuk claimed that he listed this because he had forgotten his own mother’s name. During his trial, Demjanjuk also admitted that a scar on his left bicep was what remained of an blood-type tattoo given to all SS soldiers. Regardless, the Israeli court ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict Demjanjuk of being “Ivan the Terrible.”

They did not say he was innocent. Demjanjuk returned to the United States, but the US government began trying to deport him to the Ukraine for lying about his past history in the SS when he immigrated in 1952. In 2008, the German government charged him with 29,000 counts of being an accessory to murder at Sobibor death camp and requested his extradition.

Demjanjuk is 89 years old, and claimed that he is in such poor health that a plane flight to Germany would constitute torture. However, US prosecutors produced video which appeared to show that he is in much better health than he claims. On Monday, the extradition was carried out.

Several months ago, I posted about how the world’s last few World War 1 veterans are passing on. We have almost lost our human connection with that war, and we will soon lose our human connection with the Second World War as well. And yet, almost 70 years after the war began, there are still Nazi war criminals who have never been brought to justice. In 2002, the Simon Wiesenthal Center launched Operation Last Chance, an effort to track down Nazi war criminals and bring them to justice before they die of natural causes.

Despite decades of searching by American, British, Israeli and other intelligence agencies as well as private investigators like Simon Wiesenthal, a number of Nazis managed to escape justice. They committed unprecedented industrialized mass murder, and so far have gotten completely away with it.

Alois Brunner in Syria in 1985
Alois Brunner in Syria in 1985

One of these men is Alois Brunner. Brunner was Adolf Eichmann’s assistant, and he ran the Drancy concentration camp in France. He was responsible for ordering the killing of over 100,000 people. He fled to Syria after the war, where he was granted sanctuary. Syria refused all requests to extradite him. Along the way, Brunner survived several assassination attempts launched by the Mossad. In 1987, he gave an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in which he said that “The Jews deserved to die. I have no regrets. If I had the chance I would do it again.” Facial reconition software has been used to compare pictures, indicating that Brunner was living in Damascus until at least the 1980s. As far as we know, he still lives there today, as no confirmation of his death has ever surfaced. If alive, he would be 97 years old.

Another Nazi who escaped justice is Heinrich Mueller, the chief of the Gestapo. Mueller disappeared into thin air in 1945. He may have escaped into parts unknown or he may have been killed in the battle for Berlin, however, if alive today he would be 109 years old, and is therefore extremely unlikely to be alive.

Operation Last Chance has issued a list of the top 10 most wanted Nazis still at large. Brunner tops the list, followed by Aribert Heim, a doctor who murdered hundreds of prisoners as part of human experiments at Mauthausen ca,mp. Heim may or may not have died in Egypt in 1992, or he may be living in Spain, Denmark, Paraguay or Brazil, always staying a step ahead of the authorities. Third on the list is Demjanjuk, followed by Sandor Kepiro, a Hungarian collaborator who murdered over 1,000 civilians in occupied Serbia. Others on the list include Heinrich Boere, a member of a covert SS assassination squad called Silbertanne who was involved in the murder of several suspected members of the Dutch Resistance, as well as Algimantas Dailide, a Lithuanian whom the Lithuanian authorities have refused to imprison. Klaas Carl Faber was another SS death squad member who escaped from prison in 1952 and has been on the run ever since.

So far, Operation Last Chance has submitted 99 cases of Nazi war criminals to prosecutors. A number of these people  are being protected by their country of origin. They have identified Austria, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary and the Ukraine as countries which are the least cooperative in bringing suspected war criminals to justice. They say that “a lack of political will” is the hardest obstacle to prosecuting Nazi war criminals. Nevertheless, the Simon Wiesenthal Center remains committed to seeing that no one gets away with murder.

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