Germany plans to open investigations into 50 guards from the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, on suspicion of being accessories to murder.
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A government agency charged with such investigations will begin reviewing the cases in the coming weeks, according to a report by the German website derwesten last week.
The Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, which is known for short as Zentrale Stelle, is based in the city of Ludwigsburg.
Kurt Schrimm, the head of Zentrale Stelle, told derwesten that investigators already have the names and addresses of suspects. They live in Germany and their average age is 90.
The investigation was made possible as result of the recent legal precedent set by the trial of John Demjanjuk, who was convicted in 2011 in Germany of being an accessory to the murders of 28,000 Jews in the Sobibor extermination camp. The conviction broached new legal territory because Demjanjuk's presence as a guard at a site of a mass murder was enough to implicate him in the murders that were carried out there. Demjanjuk died a year ago in Germany while waiting to appeal his conviction.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center office in Jerusalem, nicknamed "the last Nazi hunter," welcomed the report with a post on his Facebook page.
"Good news from Germany!" he wrote. "New investigations against 50 Auschwitz guards, a result of the Demjanjuk conviction. Better late than never and every single one of them will now start at least sweating, but hopefully worse!!"
It is unknown how many unpunished Nazi-era guards still live in Germany and other European countries. In the past, Zuroff estimated that the number of the guards was at least 4,000. "Even if only two percent of these people are still alive, and assuming that at least half of them are not physically fit to stand trial, 40 people can still be prosecuted," he told Haaretz.
The recent reports from Germany seem to confirm Zuroff's estimate.