Report: Dramatic Rise in Convictions of Nazi War Criminals

2012 marked a fivefold increase in the number convicted worldwide to a total of ten, nine of which were in Italy, according to Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The number of Nazi war criminals convicted in the past year increased fivefold to a total of ten, according to a report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which follows related investigations and prosecutions worldwide.

The release of the report, authored by Nazi Hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff, covering the period between April 1, 2011 and March 31st, 2012, coincides with the upcoming International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which will be held on Sunday.

Italy convicted nine Nazi war criminals, while Germany convicted one, raising the total number of convicted Nazis in the world to 99 since 2001. Seven countries handed down convictions since 2001 with Italy leading the pack at 45, followed by the U.S. at 39

Additionally, in 2012, six suspects were indicted for alleged Nazi-related war crimes: five in Italy and one in Spain. 63 investigations were opened; 45 in Germany, 9 in Austria, 6 in the U.S., and the remainder in Argentina, Hungary, Italy, and Canada.

At least 1138 investigations are ongoing against suspected Nazi war criminals. The majority, 528, are in Germany. Poland follows with 458 investigations and then the U.S. with 74.

The report praises three countries on their efforts to prosecute Nazi criminals: Germany, Italy, and the U.S. Zuroff notes the significance, in particular, of a 2011 conviction in Germany of Sobibor guard Ivan Demjanjuk. It sets a legal precedent that may "substantially increase the number of prosecutions of Holocaust perpetrators" in the country. Germany, he noted positively, has a special prosecution agency, which locates Nazi criminals. "Germany could easily have ignored the case of Demjanjuk, who was neither German nor Volksdeutsche, nor had he committed his crimes in Germany, but the prosecutors in Munich nonetheless made the effort to bring him to trial and achieved a landmark decision," wrote Zoruff. Demjanjuk was convicted even though no eyewitness testimonies to his crimes could be located.

Some countries received an failed grade for their efforts to convict Nazis. The list includes Syria, Norway, Sweden, Australia, Austria, Canada, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine. Austria established in 2012 a working group to identify war criminals and carry out comprehensive investigations against known suspects, but failed to achieve any positive results. "Despite a large number of potential suspects, Austria has not convicted anyone for crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust for more than three decades," says the report.

Poland has mixed record, according to the report. On the one hand, the country is investigating 458 cases of Nazi crimes, making it the second among the rank of countries conducting investigations. On the other hand, "the practical results achieved during the past decade are relatively disappointing," wrote Zuroff. The country's courts saw only one conviction and one indictment. It earned the category of a country that experienced "minimal success which could have been greater; additional steps urgently required."

Simon Wiesenthal Center Director Efraim Zuroff standing beside a poster showing Nazi war crimes, in Riga March 16, 2012. Credit: Reuters

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