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Nazi-hunters credit German efforts to bring war criminals to justice

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has praised Germany for making it easier to prosecute former Nazis. In a new report, the human rights group also criticizes the US and Eastern European countries for not doing enough.

Germany achieved the "most important, positive results" in bringing former Nazis to justice over the past 12 months, the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in its annual report released Monday.

The Los Angeles-based group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and promoting human rights recognized Germany's efforts to relax the criteria needed to pursue suspected war criminals, namely that prosecutors have evidence of suspects being involved in specific atrocities against specific victims. But, as the report highlighted, a new legal strategy in Germany had paved the way "for the conviction of practically any person who served either in a Nazi death camp or in the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units)."

Efraim Zuroff, director of the center's Israel office, said two percent of "Nazi criminals" are believed to be alive, and that half of them could still be tried.

"Despite the somewhat prevalent assumption that it is too late to

bring Nazi murderers to justice

, the figures clearly prove otherwise," he said in a statement.

Zuroff added that over the past 14 years, at least 102 convictions against Nazi war criminals have been obtained and more than 3,500 new investigations initiated. Since the 1945-46 Nuremberg Trials, about 13,000 German or Nazi soldiers have been found guilty of war crimes, and around half have been sentenced.

More effort needed in Eastern Europe, US

Jüdische Frauen und Männer warten auf Abtransport

More than 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators in WWII

The center's report pointed out what it described as a "lack of political will to bring Nazi war criminals to justice and/or to punish them" in post-communist Eastern Europe. The group also lowered its ranking of Nazi-hunting efforts in the Unites States from an A to a B. It's the first time the US has been given such a low grade.

Zuroff said the ranking had slipped partly because the US failed to act against Michael Karkoc, allegedly the former commander of an SS-led Ukrainian squadron, who has been living in the state of Minnesota since 1949. A German investigation revealed that Karkoc led a unit accused of burning villages, then lied to American immigration officials to get into the country after World War II.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center

publishes an annual list

of most-wanted Nazis. Former SS lieutenant Gerhard Sommer is currently at the top of the list. He is under investigation in Germany for his alleged involvement in the massacre of 560 civilians in Italy's Tuscany region in 1944.

nm/rc (AP, AFP)

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