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German investigators on trail of dozens of former Nazi guards

German investigators have said that they are on the trail of dozens of former guards at Auschwitz. They said the suspects could face charges as accessories in the murders of detainees at the camp.

The suspects are all around 90 years old and live in various parts of Germany, according to the head of the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes.

In a report published in the Saturday editions of newspapers from Germany's WAZ media group Kurt Schrimm also said that his investigators not only had names, but also knew where the suspects lived. Preliminary investigations were to be launched in the next few weeks.

Schrimm told the newspapers that since the conviction of John Demjanjuk two years ago, it was clear that "any activity in a concentration camp is enough to get a conviction on accessory to murder." This, he said, was possible even if direct involvement in a specific crime could not be proved.

In 2011, a Munich court sentenced Demjanjuk, a former guard at the Sobibor concentration camp, to five years in jail after being convicted of 20,000 counts of being an accessory to murder. Demjanjuk, a Ukraine-born American had faced a series of trials prior to the Munich trial. He died in March 2012 at the age of 91.

Schrimm also expressed confidence about the possibility of tracking down suspects abroad, particularly in Brazil, where investigators have gained access to immigration documents from the years following World War II, when many Nazi henchmen fled to South America to avoid justice. "In Brazil, things don't look bad," Schrimm said.

The concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in occupied Poland, which was in operation from 1940 until 1945, was the Nazis' biggest. An estimated 900,000 people - mostly Jews - were killed in the camp's gas chambers, while 200,000 others died through other means, including executions carried out by members of the SS, hunger, or sickness.

The Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, based in Ludwigsburg in southwestern Germany, has conducted almost 7,500 preliminary investigations since it was established in 1958.It does not actually pursue cases in court, but passes on the results of its preliminary investigations on to police or state ministries, which have the power to do so.

pfd/rc (AFP, dpa, KNA)