The Simon Wiesenthal Center has awarded Germany a top grade for its efforts to prosecute Nazi war criminals. The number of ongoing investigations into former Nazis has increased both in Germany and elsewhere.
Simon Wiesenthal was an Austrian Holocaust survivor
Germany was given an A-grade Wednesday for its efforts to hunt down Nazi war criminals. It's the first time the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization founded by a Holocaust survivor to hunt down Nazi fugitives, has awarded its top grade to any country besides the United States.
Prosecution policy has changed recently in Germany to allow more suspects - particularly lower-ranking Nazis, and those who are not of German origin - to be brought to justice. The director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, and author of the report, Dr Efraim Zuroff, welcomed the new rules.
"This change, which basically opened up the prosecution of many other suspects, is a very welcome change, a very significant change, which is likely to yield important results," Zuroff told Deutsche Welle.
Germany has shown a dramatic increase in investigations into Nazi war crimes recently: There were 177 ongoing investigations in 2009-10, compared with just 27 the year before.
Dr Efraim Zuroff says time is running out for convictions
It's not only in Germany where investigations into Nazi war criminals are on the rise. The Simon Wiesenthal Center found that this is a worldwide phenomenon.
From April 2009 to March 2010 there were 852 investigations being conducting around the world, compared with 706 during the same period in 2008-9.
"To borrow a phrase from football, we are in injury time," Zuroff explained. "There's obviously a sense of growing urgency, because this is a time-limited initiative, which will not continue forever. That's one element; the other element is the increased knowledge and sensitivity towards Holocaust crimes."
John Demjanjuk is one of the most high profile suspected Nazi war criminals to face trial in Germany in recent years. He is currently on trial in Munich, which Zuroff says sends "a very powerful message."
John Demjanjuk is on trial in Munich
Demjanjuk has been charged with 27,900 counts of acting as an accessory to murder, for the victims of the Sobibor death camp where he is accused of having served as a guard. He was previously the Simon Wiesenthal Center's most wanted Nazi war criminal.
Zuroff has now updated the center's list of the top ten most wanted Nazis. Now at the top of the list is Sandor Kepiro, a Hungarian military officer accused of organizing the mass murder of at least 1,250 civilians in Serbia in 1942. Hungary has so far failed to imprison Kepiro.
"The investigation's been going on for more than three and a half years and he hasn't been charged yet," Zuroff said. "As someone who knows the Kepiro case very well, this is really incomprehensible. What most people don't know is that Kepiro was already convicted in Hungary in January of 1944 in connection with this massacre. This is a terrible travesty of justice."
Meanwhile Kepiro has accused Zuroff of libel, and has initiated criminal proceedings against him in Budapest.
Zuroff criticized Hungary in the report, along with a dozen other countries, for their poor performance in bringing former Nazis to justice. Zuroff also singled out Canada, saying it was reluctant to extradite former Nazis, even after stripping them of citizenship.
In the period 2008-9, five individuals were convicted of Nazi war crimes, three in absentia in Italy, and two in Germany.
Author: Joanna Impey
Editor: Rob Turner