National Geographic Daily News
Nazi soldiers march.

A 2011 legal precendent makes it easier to charge Nazi war criminals.

Photograph from Mondadori/Getty

Diane Cole

for National Geographic News

Published May 8, 2013

You can't hide from justice forever—not even for war crimes committed decades in the past, and not even when you're 93.

That message resounded loudly this week as Germany announced the arrest of Hans Lipschis, age 93, for complicity in mass murders that took place at the notorious Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he served as a guard in 1941-1945. Lipschis—who says he worked as a cook at Auschwitz—is the first to be charged from among a list of 50 former Auschwitz guards that the country's Central Office of the Judicial Authorities for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes plans to probe.

The Demjanjuk Precedent

Why go after them now, 68 years after the end of World War II? Because it was not always possible to do so in the past. In 2011, the conviction in Germany of Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk, who had served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland, set a legal precedent for interpreting evidence more broadly than before. Until then, German prosecutors essentially had to prove that a suspect had committed specific crimes against specific victims at a particular time and date, and such direct evidence against camp guards was difficult to produce.

Demjanjuk's conviction—in which his SS identity card from Sobibor played a major role—"was a game-changer because it allows for the prosecution of people who would otherwise not have been prosecuted," said Efraim Zuroff, the Chief Nazi Hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights organization whose mission includes confronting anti-Semitism and promoting tolerance.

As a result of the Demjanjuk precedent, guards who worked at death camps could be charged with abetting, contributing to, or being complicit in the killings that took place there.

Lipschis is an example. "We don't know if Lipschis personally murdered anyone, but he served at Auschwitz for almost the entire time that the camp was in existence," Zuroff said. Lipschis had lived in Chicago since the 1950s, but was deported from the United States in 1983 for falsifying his past as a Nazi. Of the 50 former guards being sought for investigation in Germany, Lipschis was the only one to also appear on the SWC's 2013 Most Wanted Nazi War Criminals list.

Number One on the List

The highly dubious "honor" of being number one on the SWC list goes to Laszlo Csatary, now 98. While serving as a senior police officer in Hungarian-occupied Slovakia in 1944, he organized the deportation of approximately 15,700 Jews to the Auschwitz death camp. In 1948, a Czechoslovak court convicted and sentenced him to death in absentia.

Csatary eluded authorities, fleeing Europe for Canada. He worked there as an art dealer until 1997, when Canadian authorities found out he had lied on his passport application and revoked his citizenship. He did not surface again until 2011, when he was spotted in Budapest, Hungary, as the result of a tip received by Operation Last Chance, a joint project of the SWC and the Tagum Shlishi Foundation of Miami. He awaits possible prosecution in Hungary, where he is currently under house arrest, or—if he is extradited—in Slovakia. "Until we exposed him, he was driving his own car," said Zuroff.

Second on the SWC list is Gerhard Sommer, a former SS-Untersturmfuehrer in the 16th Panzergrenadier Division Reichsfuehrer-SS, who was convicted in absentia in 2005 by a military court in La Spezia, Italy, for participating in the 1944 massacre of 560 civilians in Sant'Anna di Stazzema. No criminal charges have as yet been brought in Germany, where Sommer now lives in a nursing home. "We're not that optimistic" about his being brought to justice, said Zuroff, "because he has been under investigation for several years, but so far there has been no progress in prosecuting him."

Vladimir Katriuk is third on the SWC list, which describes him as having served as a platoon commander of a Ukranian battalion that "carried out the murder of Jews and innocent civilians in various places in Belarus."

Like Csatary, Katriuk managed to emigrate to Canada after the war. He gained citizenship and was reported to have been a beekeeper and a prominent member of his local Orthodox Church. Although his citizenship was revoked in 1999 after his Nazi collaboration became known, the decision was overturned in 2007. Since then, however, new evidence has come to light about Katriuk's role in the mass murder of the residents of Khatyn, Belarus.

Why Age Is Not a Factor

Even though most of those on both lists are now in their late 80s or 90s, their age is no reason to stop seeking justice, said Zuroff, who is the author of Operation Last Chance: One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice. "Don't look at these people and say they look frail and weak. Think of someone who at the height of his powers devoted his energies to murdering men, women, and children."

He added: "The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers. Old age should not provide protection. The fact that they have reached an elderly age does not turn them into righteous gentiles."

Holocaust historian and Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt agrees that there is no time limit. "Just because they did this a long time ago doesn't mean they should be exonerated," said Lipstadt, author of such books as Denying the Holocaust and The Eichmann Trial. "If someone raped children decades ago and we found that person now in his 80s or 90s, you would still say they should be tried. The victims deserve to have the perpetrators brought to justice. And society needs to know that you don't get a free pass."

26 comments
anon amouse
anon amouse

So all soldiers are responsible for a general or dictators actions?


You Jews disgust me for wanting revenge on a soldier taking orders.

Cynthia Campbell
Cynthia Campbell

I'm certain my biological Mother Married a Nazi decades ago and they lived their lives as hermits. She found out something shortly after they married that frightened her and caused him to beat her on a regular basis with the promise she would not tell his secret.  His name was Robert Bartram and he was killed at 93 years old just a few months ago.  But that shouldn't let him and his previous crimes off the hook.  History must be corrected.  It means a lot to me as I have good evidence that Robert in fact killed Julies' first husband and then killed his current wife who were all young, healthy friends.  Although it is hard for me with my financial situation to pursue it but feel it's time to bring the police in now that Julie can no longer be hurt.  Another suspicious thing, the first night I visited them and stayed over their house back in 1982  , I was trying to make conversation with them at the dinner table and said very casually---Bartram, is that a German name??  He went BESERK, throughing his dinner plates against the wall and then went straight to him room murmering in German.   Julie went in to try to calm him but the fighting didn''t stop.  When I was poking through pictures I ran across several of Robert in what looked to be Nazi garb.  He often talked about the medals he won in the war but would NEVER show them to anybody.  which we all found odd since he really loved to toot his own horn.  I knocked on their door where Robert was still ranting and Julie came out of the room.  I told her it was never my intent to cause her problems and I was going to leave even though it was 2 a.m. and a blizzard from Ct. to Boston where I lived.   I packed up my car, started it up and noticed the oil light on.  I was frightened to go back to the house but they lived in the middle of no where and I needed an open gas station.  When I told Julie, Robert was listening in and said he had oil in the garage and would fill it for me.   I thought nothing of it until I made it to route 95 North past Milford Ct. when my new car stopped working, I eased it over into the breakdown lane and waited hours for triple a because of the storm size.  When the guy got there and lifted my hood, he said all my wires had been pulled and was amazed I was able to safely pull it off the road.  On later check the next morning, I was also informed my brakes had been partially cut.  Who is this monster who was so afraid of his wife, my mother forging a bond that would have allowed her to leave him without being afraid for her life.  I believe he used unmerciful poison on both Julie, his first wife and her first husband so he and Julie could be together because as I said those cases were called unusual and not much info is available in any of them.  I believe the reason he got a way with it is because he frightened the life out of his family, had very few friends and was a very old man who played the grief card well.  Oh by the way,  Roberts 1st wife, Julies' 1st husband and now Julie were all young healthy people who became mysteriously ill when Bob was around.  I know for a fact they all wanted burial ceremony's but Bob took charge and within a day had each of them creamated.   Can you help, I have recent pictures and a few from when he was younger!

\\\\

Peyton Smith
Peyton Smith

lets go after the slave owners. we can start with the ones who owned the ships and the  banks that forced millions of people from the african continent to here against their will.  Lets go after the Wall street thieves.

Natasha Chaudhury
Natasha Chaudhury

REALLY NICE TO KNOW THAT JUSTICE IS COMING OUT BUT THE TIME IS LATE.. WISH IF WAS DONE BEFORE.. 

Rebecca White
Rebecca White

I am delighted that these criminals are still being prosecuted. Those who survived the horror haven't forgotten, and they deserve justice. It's only sad that it took so long to find them. 

No courtesy was given by them to the aged, infirm, or young. They can't expect courtesy now.  Many of these people existed to torture their victims; I live to read about their arrivals in the Halls of Justice.

Frank Perez
Frank Perez

The arrest of Hans Lipschis, a former Nazi guard at Auschwitz who is among the ‘most wanted Nazi war criminals’, underscores the commitment made last month by Germany’s Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes.

The Nuremburg Trials forced the Nazis to confront and account for their atrocities. Unfortunately, thousands evaded justice.

Though decades have passed since humanity’s darkest hour, the pursuit of justice for Holocaust crimes never grows wizened and frail.

Rather, pursuing justice and holding those accountable for such crimes honors Holocaust victims.

At Auschwitz, the Nazis dispensed with the old, the young, the infirm and the “useless” with no regard for their humanity.

Prosecuting those who staffed the largest charnel house of Nazi Germany reminds us that “never again” will history bear witness to what Holocaust survivor Primo Levi described in his book, “Survival in Auschwitz”, was the physical, emotional and spiritual “demolition of a man.”

Mitchell Annand
Mitchell Annand

Its hardly like they had any choice in the matter, and if it is guards they are arresting the majority probably haven't directly committed war crimes. They are just old men who are probably haunted by the things the were made to do at the barrel of a gun, this isn't fair.

Justin L.
Justin L.

I'm sure that many of these people who are now being hunted didn't have much of a choice in which position they held.  It's not like they could just say no to their commanding officer, lest they be killed themselves for treason.  I'm sure there were many in the Nazi party that were opposed to the actions that took place, but back then in Nazi Germany, you were either with them, or against them, with those being against them facing death.  

John C.
John C.

It's long past time these criminals were punished for what they did. Living free for their entire lives, even constantly looking over your shoulder, is not punishment.

Cobra Choppergirl
Cobra Choppergirl

God, give it a rest.  Hunt down the criminals in politics today, the ones doing the damage NOW, there is an ocean of them, and leave these old farts and codgers to live out their days with their own conscious as their prison.  

Imagine during the Nazi rise to power, everybody was busy hunting down past criminals, while new criminals (the Nazis) were up to no good.  That's what you have today.   You're hunting old trash, when its the new and current trash you need to be worried about.  Republicans.  Democrats.  The CIA.  The FBI.  Corruption rampant in local police.  Ethnic cleansing abroad.  Slave trafficking, drug running, pirating of food, poisoning of food by big corporations, economic slavery.... is there no shortage of man's inhumanity to man?

Alex Constantine
Alex Constantine

Let's see. Croatian war criminal Andrija Arturovic was "hiding" in Orance County, CA. Ranking SS general Otto von Bolschwing was brought to the US by Richard Nixon, who protected him by filing fraudulent papers with the INS, and ssettled in the Silicon Valley. Klaus Barbie trained death squads for the CIA. Jusef Mengele and Martin Bormann also "hid" on the CIA payroll. Yep, Nazis war criminals are REAL hard to find -- they seek refuge behind big, fascist Americans with fat, faux reputations as "patriots," while Weisenthal Center pretends to search for them and state-controlled media look the other way ...

Harry Kanigel
Harry Kanigel

@anon amouse  So you're comparing soldiers in the field with Nazi guards at extermination camps?  Either you're an idiot or you empathize with these miscreants because you would have happily been one -- you pr*ck.

Tehillah Sarah
Tehillah Sarah

@Cynthia Campbell 

Maybe you should submit what you know to the Simon Wiesenthal centre, or Israeli intelligence? 

They could help you.

You say the man is dead, have you all been through his things?

Ramona Storch
Ramona Storch

@Peyton SmithLet's go after the Africans themselves for selling their OWN people into slavery. The slave was so profitable because of African tribal lords who offered and coordinated the capture and sale of rival tribesmen. The Europeans capitalized upon this which, although makes them wrong as well, doesn't dissolve the sellers from their share of the blame as well. So... yeah. let's go back and prosecute African-American's ancestors as well... if that's the line of thinking there. [Sarcasm aside] I don't think slave owning or working on Wall Street equates to Nazi war crimes.... as American slave-owners are no longer alive anymore and... I wasn't aware that Wall Street workers were torturing and killing off people en masse somewhere. But prosecuting Nazi war criminals who are still alive today makes sense. Once they die, however, the only thing you are doing is posthumously declaring their deeds and the justice they should have received for it. Other than that, one would have to be careful not to extend that blame or verdict to their family members.

Rebecca White
Rebecca White

@Mitchell Annand I can't imagine anyone having the power to force me to commit crimes like theirs. I would rather be killed. They made their choice when they voluntarily joined the SS. Guards participated in  and enjoyed the depravity.

Ramona Storch
Ramona Storch

@Justin L.So it was better to murder hundreds, thousands or millions... than to die with honor for NOT participating in such atrocities? Perhaps it is their lack of virtue, honor and character which deserves to be punished then...

Sharon G
Sharon G

@Cobra Choppergirl  I wonder if you would say "give it a rest" if someone would have murder your mother, beat her to death right in front of you, take you and your four year old brother and send you to Auschwitz to starve and wait to die. Would you say "give it a rest" then?

After you "survive", lose your entire family and sent alone to a foreign country to remember what you saw every single day for the rest of your beyond repair life!

There will be corruption and cruelty for as long as humanity exists. it doesn't say we need to forget about those who committed crimes against humanity because it's been a while!

I would rather die and not kill babies and children! They are monsters that unfortunately lived free for far too long, it is only fair they will live their last days afraid and alone! For what they did it's too kind as it is!

Robi Rob
Robi Rob

@Cobra Choppergirl Although you provide a couple of good points, your argument must be rejected.  The atrocities committed by the Nazis are the worst mankind has ever seen.  Giving these men who are in wheelchairs now and too decrepit to commit further atrocities would serve as a sign to modern day tyrants and mass killers, such as Assad and his regime in Syria right now, who are murdering thousands and thousands of innocent civilians, that the international community might not prosecute them for their atrocities, and that they might be able to escape justice and live life freely in the comfort of their own homes, all the way into their elderly years as well.  Enough is enough, and it's time to eliminate impunity for anyone from war crimes and atrocities

Baron Bifford
Baron Bifford

@Cobra Choppergirl 

First of fall, a lot of these old ex-Nazi codgers do not regret their actions in the least.

Secondly, these individuals have committed clear breaches of law for which their is evidence and for which due process is straightforward, so there is no reason to let them off the hook.  We don't let criminals go just because we think they can't re-offend.

Yes, there are a lot of corrupt individuals in modern government.  They're not as easy to go after as old Nazi criminals, because these old Nazis no longer have any allies in government to protect them.  But some of them do get caught and go to prison every now and then, so we're obviously not ignoring them.

You're talking about bringing whole institutions and political parties down, and that is a political matter, not a legal one. It's not a matter for the police, it's a matter for politicians and voters.  People challenge these every day when the demonstrate in the street, write to their politicians or rant on the Internet.

Ben Guido
Ben Guido

@Cobra Choppergirl   I agree totally/  There are so many worse people in society today, so why not go after them?  Glad to see someone else has got their head straight.

Justin L.
Justin L.

@Robi Rob @Cobra Choppergirl " The atrocities committed by the Nazis are the worst mankind has ever seen."  Uh, no.  Not even close.  I suggest you look into the decimation of the American Indian population in North America due to European settlement and the murder and introduction of disease as a result.  Also, you might want to consider the millions of African slaves that died on the way to the United States during times of the Atlantic Slave Trade and who were killed by whites or other new world settlers, or died as a result of their treatment and/or living conditions and lack of care.  The number of jews killed in the holocaust likely pale in comparison to those numbers.

Olivia Pratt
Olivia Pratt

@Ben Guido @Cobra Choppergirl  

"There are so many worse people in society" Seriously?  The people hunting Nazi's would not be going after anyone else so the idea that the Nazi search keeps resources from going after current "worse people" isn't credible.  Do yourself, and others a favor and read more about the Holocaust before you publish your opinions.  So many worse people in society today...you may just be one of them. Ignorance really should be a crime. 

Ramona Storch
Ramona Storch

@Justin L.@Baron Bifford@Cobra Choppergirl

The Nazi war criminal, who died aged 100 last week, has spoken from beyond the grave in a video released posthumously by his lawyer.

Former SS captain Eric Priebke was serving a life sentence in Rome for his part in the 1944 massacre of the Ardeatine Caves.

Nazi officers rounded up and shot more than 300 Italian men and boys in a reprisal attack for the killing of German soldiers by resistance fighters.

It is considered the worst atrocity of World War II on Italian soil.


In the footage, recorded before he died, Priebke continues to show no remorse...

Refusing to make any apology for his crimes, Priebke instead blamed the resistance fighters, for provoking the attack.

The partisans were fully aware of the consequences, he said. ‘What happened in Via Rasella was that the CAP the communists attacked a troop of German police. They did this knowing there would be a reprisal.

'The commander when he arrived in Rome had put on the wall warnings that any attack against Germans would meet with a reprisal. They knew that and they did it anyway.’


LIMOGES, France, Aug 14, 2007 (AFP) - Nazi war criminal Heinz Barth, who has died aged 86, showed no regret for his part in the wartime massacre of 642 men, women and children in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane, survivors charged on Tuesday. "In 1983, during his trial in East Berlin, he voiced no regret," recalled Robert Hebras, 82, one of six people who survived the massacre at Oradour, near Limoges in central France. "His sole regret was the fact there were survivors left to testify." A detachment of SS troops heading north to reinforce German defences halted in the village and, for reasons that have never been made clear, ordered its 642 inhabitants, including some 200 children, to assemble in the town square.
Women and children were then herded into the town church which was pumped full of toxic gas and set on fire. The men were machine-gunned and burned alive in a barn. The entire village was then torched.

I found countless other interviews, stories and proceedings depicting the same sentiment of many other Nazi criminals over the years. So yes... there area great deal who have personally stated their lack of regret at any of the acts which they committed. But perhaps even all of that isn't good enough for you...

Jared Decker
Jared Decker

@Olivia Pratt @Ben Guido @Cobra Choppergirl 


Give it a rest. Although the Nazis were awful people, Hitler and many of his top leaders tricked the German people into believing in a "master race". The Nazis were mainly a result of the Allies inability to deal with Germany properly after WWI. We need to remember what Abe Lincoln did after The American Civil War. He basically said: Thousands of men have died on both sides, lets stop the killing here. In my opinion enough of the Nazis were tried and some hanged for war crimes. Lets let the other live out there last years in peace and focus on present issues.   

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