March 19, 2012 – In mid-December, the Simon Wiesenthal Center launched Operation Last Chance II to bring Nazi war criminals to justice in Germany. The initiative was announced at a press conference in Berlin by Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter for the Center and director of its Israel office. “Whatever can be done has to be done very promptly and as quickly as possible because time is running out,” Zuroff said. Operation Last Chance II will provide a reward of up to 25,000 euro ($32,900) for information leading to investigation and prosecution of Nazi war criminals; those rewards will be funded by Targum Shlishi and others.
Operation Last Chance was originally launched in 2002 by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office together with Targum Shlishi. “Operation Last Chance was our attempt to respond proactively to the reality of the diminishing opportunity to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice. Time was running out and we sought to maximize justice while it was still possible to do so,” said Zuroff. The initiative, the idea to offer monetary rewards, was conceived by Aryeh Rubin, significantly funded by Targum Shlishi, and coordinated by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office. Operation Last Chance was launched in Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary.
Speaking at a press conference at the Bundestag in Berlin in January, 2005 to announce the campaign’s original launch in Germany, Aryeh Rubin said that Operation Last Chance “is NOT about revenge. The eighty-year-old guard has lived his life and has his grandchildren, while we have no grandmothers, the repository of our oral culture. That can’t be revenge. IT’S ABOUT JUSTICE…This is really our last opportunity to achieve justice for the crimes of the recent past. History will not judge today’s postwar generations by the cars they drive, the movies they produce, or the buildings they erect. They will be judged by the society they build and the legacy they leave.”
Re-launch in Germany
The launch of Operation Last Chance II in Germany was inspired by a legal precedent that has led to the reopening of hundreds of investigations. In May 2011 a Munich court found former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk guilty of thousands of counts of accessory to murder based on the court’s findings that he served as a death camp guard. He was the first Nazi war criminal to be convicted in Germany without evidence being presented to the court of a specific crime with a specific victim; prior to his conviction, no case would be prosecuted in Germany without such evidence, a fact that severely limited the prosecution possibilities. The court ruling means that any individual could be convicted of accessory to murder if they were guards at a Nazi death camp that existed solely for killing, without adjacent labor camps (Belzec, Sobibor, Chelmno, and Treblinka), or were members of the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units), to which the precedent also applies, according to meetings Zuroff has had with German judicial officials.
The Wiesenthal Center is asking for tips and has established a mobile hotline (+49-1573-494-7307). While the investigation is focused on Germany, suspects can live anywhere.
For more information
For more information about Operation Last Chance, see its website at www.operationlastchance.org.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website at www.targumshlishi.org.