Inside the Last-Ditch Effort to Go After Auschwitz Guards

John Demjanjuk case lowered threshold for convictions

By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 11, 2013 9:46 AM CDT

(Newser) – Sixty-eight years after the end of World War II, Germany's Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes has made a last attempt at justice: a list. On it are the names of 50 former Auschwitz guards still known to be alive, compiled via state databases, Holocaust documents, and travels to Poland. Next, the office will determine which have not yet been prosecuted—and then attempt to do so. The New York Times reports that the office has been aware of some of the names on the list for five decades; it's able to pursue them now thanks to the 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk.

As the Times reports, that case lowered the legal bar needed to secure a conviction: Demjanjuk, who died in 2012, became the first person to be convicted in a Nazi-era case without direct evidence he took part in a specific murder—prosecutors argued that proving he was a guard at a camp whose sole purpose was killing people was enough. "We’re very happy that this thing is happening," says the Simon Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter. "But the real test of the initiative will come when these cases are turned over to the prosecutors."

FILE - In this May 12, 2011 file photo, John Demjanjuk leaves a courtroom in Munich, Germany.
FILE - In this May 12, 2011 file photo, John Demjanjuk leaves a courtroom in Munich, Germany.   (AP Photo/dapd/ Lennart Preiss, File)
The infamous front gate of the Auschwitz concentration camp, with the sign Arbeit macht frei.
The infamous front gate of the Auschwitz concentration camp, with the sign "Arbeit macht frei."   (snakes3425)
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