Too late: The last German trials against Nazis
By Dr Harald Daehne in Berlin
It was one of the last trials against a Nazi war criminal: In July, 2015, a 94 year old man – a former member of the SS-Guard in the death camp Auschwitz – was convicted by a German court.
The penalty: 4 years prison.
He was charged with aiding and abetting the death of 300.000 Jews in 1944. His function: to keep the books.
‘A small cog’
He never killed anyone. He was just an honest small cog in the death-machine. One of hundred thousands.
On one side, the trial was constructive: a holocaust survivor gave the former SS-man a handshake forgave him; the history of the holocaust was again a big topic in the media — and Germany showed the world that Nazi-crimes can be prosecuted 70 years after the war.
On the other side, the trial marked the inadequacies of the (Western) German justice over 60 years.
From 1949 till 2010, most Nazis guilty of war crimes were not brought to justice. After the war these former Nazis reached high positions as judges, prosecutors, officials, policemen, ministers, journalists and businessman.
Nazis needed to ‘rebuild the country’
The first West-German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (himself never a Nazi) believed the former 1933-45-elite were needed to rebuild the ruined country. A similar situation was found in the Communist part of Germany, the GDR.
In 1960, the Social Democratic prosecutor Dr. Fritz Bauer got information about the whereabouts of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina.
He didn’t start an official request for a rendition to Germany because he didn’t trust German justice. Instead he worked together with the Israeli Mossad. The rest is history.
Fritz Bauer again was the only person in 60 years who accused members of the SS-guard in Auschwitz. These public trials in the mid 1960s were very important for the rehabilitation of holocaust history in Germany, especially among young people.
But Germany’s highest criminal court (many of its members were already judges in Nazi time) decides: a conviction is only allowed where concrete evidence exists for someone committing a murder.
Only 30 punished by a Court
But in nearly every case of a war crime, this evidence didn’t existing. Most of the offenders said they did everything while only obeying orders. Not more than 30 individuals were punished in a German court to the present day.
After the German reunionification in the 1990’s,. the highest criminal court changed this legal practise. Communist soldiers who guarded the Wall in Berlin
and killed refugees were now convicted as well as the leaders of the GDR. Obedience was no longer an excuse.
But at that time too many old men involved in Nazi-crimes were still alive and regarded as honest and commendable German citizens.
So for a further 15 years nobody was accused.
Finally, a conviction for ‘being there’
In 2011, a 92-year-old member of Ukrainian auxiliary forces in a death camp was the first person convicted without having committed a concrete crime.
Just being there and being a cog in the machine is now enough to be found guilty. It’s a wicked joke that the convicted person wasn’t a German.
After that conviction, prosecutions against the last 20 or 30 surviving German Nazis have started.
But it’s too late, too ambivalent and with too much ‘pseudo justice’.