Posted on May 22, 2003
BY MARK COLVIN
MARK COLVIN: The veteran Nazi hunter Simon
Wiesenthal has just retired, at the age of ninety-four,
and some old war criminals may be sleeping easier in
their beds. But Mr Wiesenthal has successors who don't
believe his retirement claim that there are "no
more Nazis worth pursuing," and one of the most
prominent of these Nazi hunters is an Australia.
Dr Efraim Zuroff is director of the Israel
office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. As part of what's
the Centre's calling Operation Last Chance, he's offering
a reward amounting to about AUS$16,000 for information
leading to surviving war criminals.
He points out that the youngest perpetrators
from World War Two would now be in their late seventies,
and some may still in good health and relishing their
I asked him what he hoped the reward would
achieve in Australia.
EFRAIM ZUROFF: Just in the framework of
our project Operation Last Chance, we've already received
the names of two individuals, who according to one informant
were involved in the murder of Jews in Lithuania and
subsequently immigrated to Australia.
MARK COLVIN: Can you tell us anything
about those cases?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: Individuals who were involved
in the persecution and murder of Jews in a town called
Rokiskis, in which several thousand Jews were killed
in the Summer and Fall of 1941, not longer after the
Nazi invasion. The murders were carried out by Lithuanian
police and people from the village.
MARK COLVIN: 96 per cent of the Jews in
Lithuania were killed?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: That's correct.
MARK COLVIN: Presumably, among the four
per cent, it's pretty unlikely that any of the survivors,
the Jewish survivors, would be among your witnesses.
Who are you trying to flush out? Are you trying to flush
out people who were witnesses or might have been participants,
but only minor participants· what?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: We're trying to get people
who until now have maintained silence. The thinking
behind the project was that there might be people who
were, for example, convicted of these crimes and served
their sentences and are now in a position to come forward.
[They] do not have to fear persecution,
because of double jeopardy and can tell us the truth.
I'm sorry to say that although we've obtained quite
a bit of information ö over 200 new suspects ö
no convicted murderers have yet stepped forward.
MARK COLVIN: If you found one of these
people in Australia, what chance would you have of bringing
that person to justice?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: I would say at this point
the chances are not that good, because there's really
very little political will in Canberra to proceed with
MARK COLVIN: Why do you think that is?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: I think that Australia
initially started out with good intentions, established
a special investigations unit, made a serious effort
to bring these people top justice, but encountered initial
failure in the first three cases.
Unfortunately, some of the people making
the decisions reached the conclusion that there were
no votes in bringing Nazis to justice, which was particularly
unfortunate because it was precisely at this point that
the archives in the former Soviet Union were being opened
up and new important material was becoming available
for the first time regarding crimes committed by people
who were living in Australia, among other countries.
In the United States, they have stripped
71 Nazi war criminals of their American citizenship
and deported 57. And Canada, which initially opted for
criminal prosecution, several years ago chose to switch
to de-naturalisation and deportation. They've won four
cases, two additional suspects have voluntarily left
the country and there are 17 cases in the courts right
MARK COLVIN: De-naturalisation and deportation
ö why doesn't Australia do it?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: That's what I've been asking
myself for the past few years. We have in fact been
in contact with the Government and have suggested to
the Australian Government to switch to de-naturalisation
and deportation, which quite frankly would be suitable
Because Australia, after all, is not the
country in which the crimes were committed, but is rather
a country which offered haven to the people who settled
here, who don't deserve the privilege of living in a
great democracy like Australia.
MARK COLVIN: And you say we couldn't try
them for these crimes here?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: It would be extremely difficult
because one of the requirements of Australian law is
that the witnesses personally appear in court. There's
no video testimony for example, and given the fact that
the witnesses in question are all elderly people, it's
quite difficult for these people to make the trip to
Australia and consequently that is one of the problems.
MARK COLVIN: So what does the Government
say when you put these arguments to them?
EFRAIM ZUROFF: The Government has already
switched the law to enable them to give them the power
to take away Australian citizenship from individuals
who lied upon entry and were subsequently involved in
criminal activity or were previously involved in criminal
activity, but that was not made retrospective.
It's from 1997 when the change was made,
onward. And I think it would be very important and very
beneficial to make that change retrospective and I want
to point out that in many other countries these people
are being brought to justice, quite successfully.
In the past 28 months, there have been
21 convictions of Nazi war criminals in different countries
all over the world. That basically means that every
four months, three Nazi war criminals have been successfully
convicted. So it's happening. It's still possible.
As we speak, at the moment, Australia
is the only country which admitted large numbers of
these collaborators, Nazi collaborators and perpetrators,
which has not taken successful legal action against
a single one. And to be quite honest, it's very surprising
and it's a bit strange, I would say.
If the Government will make a serious
effort, then we'll re-think the policy and devote some
renewed energy to this issue. I would say, my estimate
is that between half a dozen or a dozen cases could
MARK COLVIN: The Nazi hunter Dr Efrain
Zuroff, Director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal