Sixty years after the end of World War II, Jewish organizations are making what they are calling a last-ditch effort to track down Nazi war criminals in Germany before they and their victims die of old age. The initiative is sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, named for the Nazi hunter who brought the infamous German war criminal Adolf Eichmann to justice. The campaign follows similar projects in the Baltic states in 2002 and others last year in Austria, Romania, Croatia, and Hungary.
Munich, 3 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The opening of the campaign to hunt down surviving Nazi war criminals was timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary on 27 January of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
It also coincides with growing alarm in Germany over the activities of a far-right political party, the German National-Democratic Party (NPD), which denies the Holocaust. During the Auschwitz commemoration, NPD politicians walked out of a regional parliament in the German state of Saxony rather than join in a minute's silence for Holocaust victims.
It was in this atmosphere that the director of the Wiesenthal center, Efraim Zuroff, launched the campaign. It is called Operation Last Chance in recognition of the fact that most surviving ex-Nazis are now in their 80s or older. In a few years they will be too old to provide testimony or to be punished.
At the top of the wanted list is Aribert Heim, a doctor in the Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen concentration camps. The Wiesenthal center says Heim conducted medical experiments on Jewish prisoners and that hundreds died. Heim escaped prosecution after the war and opened a practice in the health resort of Baden-Baden, specializing in women's ailments. He fled in 1962 after being warned that he was being investigated.
The historian Stefan Klemm, who works with Zuroff at the Wiesenthal center, said there is reason to believe Heim is still alive. "We have concrete indications that [Heim] is still alive," Klemm said. "They are based, among other things, on the fact that he has a fortune of about 1 million euros in a Berlin bank and that when he dies it should go to his heirs. The fact that it has not been claimed by heirs makes clear that he is still alive."
A reward of 130,000 euros ($168,000) has been offered for information about Heim's whereabouts.
Zuroff says he believes there are hundreds of old Nazis like Heim who are still living and should be prosecuted for what they did. He has offered a reward of $10,000 for information leading to the prosecution and punishment of a Nazi war criminal. Smaller sums are offered to those who provided sufficient information to launch an investigation.
Also on the wanted list are five men in German uniform who photographed each other laughing as they raped a young German woman, Marianne Kohn, in the French town of Annemasse in 1944. The victim's body was later found in a mass grave. German TV recently showed the black-and-white photographs taken by the rapists in the hope that they might be identified. Kohn was a member of a group smuggling children out of Nazi-occupied France into neutral Switzerland. She was successful for a time but was caught and imprisoned early in 1944.
Operation Last Chance is also seeking a Croatian general, Milivoj Asner, who is said to have been the wartime controller of the town of Slavonska Pozega. Last year Zuroff gave the Croatian attorney general a file claiming that Asner persecuted people during the Nazi era. Asner has since disappeared.
Operation Last Chance has established a telephone hot line in Germany for those with information (0800 204 054) and a website at http://www.operationlastchance.com.