A special war crimes investigation in Germany has recommended that 30 suspected former prison guards at the Auschwitz death camp be tried for murder, more than 60 years after the end of World War II. The cases of the 30 suspects, who are still living in Germany, have been passed on to the individual state prosecutors who will have to determine if the men and women should stand trial, under a new legal precedent that holds them responsible for the crimes of the Nazi regime.
In 2011, Germany convicted John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian-born guard who lived in the United States for years after the war. He was charged as an accessory to murder, despite not being implicated in any specific deaths at the Sobibor camp where he was believed to have served as a guard. A judge in that case accepted the novel legal argument that anyone who knowingly served at a Nazi death camp was complicit in all the deaths that took place there, even if there was no evidence that they personally took part in the atrocities.
That precedent has not been challenged by a higher court, since Demjanjuk died before his case could be appealed. But now that's been established, it opened the door for these new prosecutions, aimed at suspects who have been known to authorities for years, but could not have been charged under previous laws.
The biggest complication now is the march of time. All of the accused are obviously quite elderly, and some are infirm or otherwise unhealthy, and waiting for the legal process to sort itself out could take years. Seven other suspects have been identified living outside of Germany.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.