THE JEWISH WEEK
Did You Do After The War, Dad?
by Aryeh Rubin
In early September, I embarked on a trip to Poland,
Romania and Austria to announce the launch of Operation
Last Chance: Rewards for Justice in those countries.
Operation Last Chance offers a $10,000 reward for information
leading to the arrest and conviction of Nazi war criminals.
The program, initiated in 2002, was conceived and is
funded by my nonprofit foundation Targum Shlishi in
partnership with the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal
Center, which administers the program. Dr. Efraim Zuroff,
director of the Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office,
and I have been asked repeatedly: What is the purpose
of pursuing Nazi war criminals 58 years after the war?
After all, these criminals are old and frail. We, the
Jewish people, have more daunting and immediate issues
with which to deal. Why bother?
The legendary 94-year-old Simon Wiesenthal has
customarily responded to that question by saying,
“When I go to heaven, the victims of the Holocaust
will confront me and say, ‘You were the lucky
you survived. What did you do with your life?’
I will be able to respond, ‘I did not forget you.’
He speaks for all of us.
When I conceived Operation Last Chance, I didn’t
know what effect it would have. At the very least,
I believed it would help undo a terrible legacy of
inaction — a legacy that can be ascribed, albeit
in very different ways, to both the Jewish people
and the countries harboring Nazi war criminals.
Few countries pursued these killers. In those that
did, relatively few criminals were brought to
justice. Of those, only a minute percentage
received the severe punishment they deserved.
The simple but sad fact is that for the most part,
the Nazi war criminals who perpetrated the largest
and most gruesome genocide in human history got
away with it. To my mind, now is our last chance
to act before the murderers die peacefully in
their beds, with their children and grandchildren
wistfully looking on — a fate they certainly do
The primary focus of our activities in bringing
Nazi war criminals to justice is to prod reluctant
governments to prosecute those who participated in
the well-organized killing machine that murdered
one-third of our people. In an ideal world, these
governments would be moved to prosecute past
misdeeds out of a sense of remorse, justice and/or
conscience. But our firsthand experience with
Operation Last Chance reveals that in most cases,
it is political expediency that motivates them. It
is world opinion, political pressure and the
status of pending European Union membership that
nudges the haltingly slow wheels of justice.
In most of the countries where Operation Last
Chance is or will be operational (the program has
been launched in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia,
Poland, Romania and Austria, with Belarus,
Ukraine, Hungary and Germany scheduled for launch
later in the year), Holocaust consciousness is not
part of the zeitgeist. In fact, a revisionist view
of history has resulted in citizens in most of
these countries viewing their predecessors as
victims of Nazi terror and not as participants in
the murder of Jews.
Even in Germany, where the Holocaust is an
integral part of the consciousness of the nation,
incredibly there is of late a public discussion of
the terrible German suffering during World War II.
More disconcerting is that Holocaust denial is
leeching its way into the very fabric of the local
Some 15 months after its inauguration, Operation
Last Chance has yielded information on 241
suspects, with 55 names submitted to prosecution
agencies. In Lithuania, local prosecutors have
opened three murder investigations involving 22
suspects, and we expect additional investigations
to be initiated in other countries. Also
significant is the extensive media coverage
coupled with an advertising campaign that has
brought the horror of the Holocaust to the public
consciousness in the 10 targeted countries.
The subtle but clear message: If you seek to harm
a Jew, there will be those, perhaps unborn at the
time of the crimes, who eventually will seek
justice. This is particularly important in light
of the centrality of the “Jew as victim”
that is a legacy of the Holocaust.
It is never too late. In the last three and
one-half years, 24 Nazi war criminals have been
convicted in the United States, Canada, Poland,
Lithuania, France and Germany.
While we do not cast the sins of the fathers upon
their children, we emphatically hold the
grandparents responsible for their crimes against
our people, and for crimes against humanity. Let
those murderers of our families, be they 75 or
105, fear that knock on the door until their dying
day, that they might yet face retribution.
To me, the relevant question is not why Operation
Last Chance 58 years after the war, but why did we
do so little to pursue Nazi war criminals?
How can we appeal to the world’s judicial sense
justice when we ourselves were and continue to be
asleep at the wheel? Just remembering, lighting
the annual memorial candle, does not send the
needed message to those who would dare do it one