Posted on June, 01, 2003
"This work continues"
No retirement for Nazi
BY DANIEL MANDEL
In Melbourne recently, Efraim Zuroff,
head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal
Centre, took issue with the famed Nazi hunter whose
name the Centre bears and who recently announced his
DM: Simon Wiesenthal recently said that
he is 94, has retired and outlived the Nazis he hunted,
that the work is done. What’s your view?
EZ: With all the admiration and respect
that we have for Mr Wiesenthal, I disagree. In the last
28 months, prior to May 2003, there have been 21 successful
convictions and 16 new files. I think that clearly shows
that this work continues and can continue.
DM: Do you think there are enough living
Nazi war criminals who are fit to stand trial if they
could be found and brought to justice?
EZ: You have to keep in mind that in order
to murder six million people, you need an extremely
large number of individuals. Although several million
Jews were murdered in gas chambers, at least two million
were murdered individually and one by one shot. Even
those Jews who were murdered at death camps had to be
rounded up by numerous Nazis and local collaborators
without whose help none of this would have been possible.
DM: Is it in that context that you have
launched this controversial initiative of Operation
EZ: It has only aroused controversy among
those who have opposed the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.
We launched Operation Last Chance as an innovative method
of obtaining information which otherwise might not have
reached the hands of prosecutors. We chose to launch
it in the Baltic republics because the Baltics have
three components that do not exist together anywhere
else in Europe during the Shoah. One is the active zealous
participation of large segments of the local population
in mass murder of Jews. Second, foreign Jews were brought
to each one of these countries to be murdered during
the Shoah, in many cases by locals. French Jews were
brought to Lithuania. Czech, Austrian and German Jews
were brought to Latvia during 1941 and Czech and German
Jews were brought to Estonia initially, not only after
the invasion but later, and Lithuanian Jews were brought
to Estonia. And units from each of these countries were
sent elsewhere to participate in the implementation
of the Final Solution. So there are many people who
could give us the information that is needed for prosecutions.
[Opposition to prosecution] stems from a sentiment that
this was similar to tactics used by the KGB and that
is always a sensitive subject in former communist countries,
in the former Soviet countries.
DM: You mean they claim it is a case of
financing people to denounce others?
EZ: Correct. And that reminded them of
Soviet rule but the fact of the matter is that if the
American government can offer $25 million for information
on Bin Laden, why can’t they offer funds in return
for information regarding Nazi war criminals?
DM: So what kind of success do you think
you will have in that climate?
EZ: We have received more that 211 names.
We have received 174 names in Lithuania, 37 in Latvia
and 6 in Estonia. The special prosecutor from Vilnius
has already opened two murder investigations regarding
crimes committed during the Holocaust in the wake of
information received from Operation Last Chance.
DM: In the Australian case, what is our
situation here as you understand it to be?
EZ: Unless Australia will switch to denaturalisation
and deportation [proceedings], it is highly unlikely
whether Australia will take successful legal action
against any Nazi war criminal. If Australia were to
switch to denaturalisation and deportation, I think
the chances of success would be considerable. I would
estimate some 50 suspects at least living in Australia
and I would say that perhaps maybe six to a dozen cases
actually could be taken. This is precisely what is happening
in the United States and to a lesser extent in Canada.
The United States has had 11 successful convictions
in the last 28 months and 11 new cases have been filed.
The Americans to date have stripped 71 Nazi war criminals
of their American citizenship and deported 57. Those
figures I think, are quite indicative because the profile
of the average Nazi collaborator/perpetrator who entered
Australia is very, very similar to that of the Nazi
collaborator/perpetrators who entered the United States
[and] are under investigation by the Office of Special
DM: You have travelled more than once
to Rwanda. What lessons have you been able to draw in
terms of dealing with the genocide that took place there?
EZ: The most important lesson is to record
the testimony of all surviving witnesses and to invest
as much interest as possible to be able to get the information
while the information is as fresh as possible in the
minds of the victims.
DM: I heard you make an interesting point
the other day, namely, that the same techniques that
we have seen immediately after the Holocaust, of denial
and concealment, have emerged in Rwanda. Can you illustrate
this a little bit for us?
EZ: It is quite interesting and frustrating.
It is one of those things that really makes you pause
and think. Immediately after the Rwandan genocide, already
there were those who claimed it never took place, or,
to the extent that it took place, that it was carried
out by the Tutsis. The people who are spreading these
lies are people connected to the Hutu extremists who
carried out the genocide, or who are genocidists themselves.
So on a certain level it is not surprising but at the
same time it is absolutely infuriating.