Eight elderly Germans who served in a unit that participated in the mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust will not be prosecuted, even though their names were given to the German authorities three years ago, according to an investigation by a German TV channel.
- 1941: Nazis massacre Jews at Babi Yar
- 'Never again' has become an empty phrase: Why we must remember the Holocaust’s forgotten massacres
- Ukraine's honoring of war criminals leaves its Jews uneasy - and divided
The decision has sparked sharp criticism in the German media.
The eight men served in Einsatzgruppe C, which took part in the Nazi-perpetrated massacre of tens of thousands of Jews in Babi Yar, Ukraine, in September 1941. The men’s names were given to the German authorities by Israeli Nazi hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff in 2014.
But though TV journalists from ARD were able to track two of the men down and heard incriminating admissions, the German authorities have taken no steps. “What are they waiting for? For them to die?” Zuroff, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, wrote on his Facebook page. “The Germans should now be pressured into expediting proceedings against them before these criminals die and evade justice.”
Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who is now a member of the association that runs the memorial site at Babi Yar, said on the TV show “Kontakt” that he couldn’t understand why steps have not been taken. “It’s the duty of the prosecuting authorities to take action in cases of mass murder,” he said.
Jens Rommel, who heads the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes – the body responsible for filing indictments against former Nazis – told the Associated Press that his team lacked the resources to investigate these individuals, and that the evidence presented to him was poor.
Rommel claimed he would have to prove that the men took an active part in the murders to prosecute. But this claim does not hold water legally: Following the precedent set in the 2011 trial of former Nazi guard John Demjanjuk in Germany, individuals considered “accessories to mass murder” can be prosecuted even if they did not actually kill a person, but rather based only on their service in the unit that committed the murders.
Prof. Cornelius Nestler, a legal expert from the University of Cologne, said: “We presume that any person who was a member of an Einsatzgruppe was an accessory to murder, because that was their role.” The Einsatzgruppen were SS death squads.
The German television report found two of the suspects, Kurt G. and Herbert W., who are both in their 90s, and both admitted serving in Einsatzgruppe C. Kurt G. said he repaired trucks on the home front and did not take part in any shooting. He said he was surprised to hear that 6 million Jews had been killed in the war. Zuroff said that even a Nazi who served in a repair shop was an accessory to mass murder, because he repaired the vehicles used by murderers.
Herbert W., meanwhile, said, “I have nothing to hide.” During the investigation, it emerged that the German authorities knew about the men’s Nazi past as far back as 1965, but did not take any action against them.
The ARD exposé casts a heavy shadow over German efforts in recent years to find the last of the living Nazi war criminals. The last prominent case was that of Oskar Gröning, known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” who was sentenced to four years in prison in 2015. But the authorities have had difficulties completing legal proceedings against many other alleged Nazi war criminals because of their poor health.