How The Hunt To Bring Nazis To Justice Continues To This DayHighlights from The Pat Kenny Show
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- 18 Feb 2021
Newstalk reporter Simon Tierney joins us on the show and he reports on how the hunt to bring Nazis to justice for the horrors of the holocaust continues to this day.
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The part Kenny show on news talk with Marter private network during current restrictions. Don't ignore your health concerns. Our expert team is ready to help. Over the past number of years, German prosecutors have been in a race to bring former Nazis to justice before it's too late.
Last week alone, a 100 year old man was charged of being an accessory to the murder of three thousand five hundred eighteen people. The German centenarian is alleged to have worked as an SS guard at the infamous Berlin concentration camp. My German is terrible, but I think it's Saxen Housum Newstalk reporter Simon Terry has been examining the case. He's with me now. Simon, what are the details of the case? Because they're shrouded a little in mystery because of German privacy laws.
Sure. Yeah, exactly, Jonathan. So we don't know the man's name. We do know that he's 100 years of age, as we know from recent years, Nazis or alleged Nazis who go on trial. They tend to be very advanced in age, of course, because it's 75 years ago since the war ended, he said, to have worked as an SS guard, which is the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party, of course, between 42 and 45.
And he's accused of knowingly and willfully assisting in the murders of the inmates who died there, almost 4000 of them. And in his particular case, no. Sachsenhausen, you did pronounce it correctly. Jonathan, congratulations. Thank you. It had about 200000 inmates in total. It was one of the earliest camps that Himmler set up in the mid 1930s by 200000 inmates in total, of which about half of them died. In this particular case, they've been examining it for about two or three years, was handed over to the prosecutors in the town of Neut Ruban, which is close to where the camp was.
But north of Berlin, you can visit this concentration camp. Now it's preserved for posterity.
Now, despite the advanced age of the accused, Jonathan, he has been certified as fit and healthy enough to stand trial.
OK, he's one of a number of people of that age group who have been charged over the last few years.
It begs the question, though, why are they only being tried now and why weren't they charged and put before the courts in their earlier years when arguably it was fairer?
Well, yeah, and this is the big question. I think it's an important question. We've almost become desensitized to the headlines about alleged Nazis in their 90s or in this case, 100 being being brought to trial so late. And, you know, even two weeks ago, there was a 95 year old woman who's living in a nursing home in near Hamburg who is now going to be going on trial for being an accessory to the murder of 10000 Jews when she was secretary to the commandant of Shut-off concentration camp, which is near present day Danske in Poland.
So extraordinary events. And in fact, in that particular case, it's really interesting because she was between the age of 18 and 20 when she was that secretary. And as a result, she's going to be tried as as a juvenile in juvenile court in Germany, which is particularly interesting.
And it brings up really important philosophical questions about the law. I think, Jonathan, you know, should people who were very young at the time, who played no direct role in the say, the architecture of these policies of genocide, should they be the focus of retribution? Can you have a fair trial if you don't have any reliable witnesses? Because most of them are dead, unfortunately, both because of the crimes and because so much so many decades have passed.
And I think they're important questions to have. And it's just because this man is being brought to trial, it doesn't mean that necessarily everyone agrees with that happening.
Conspiracy is one of the hardest crimes to prove under our common law system. It's just really hard. That's why very few people get charged with conspiracy here.
But has German law changed in terms of how it understands criminal complicity, particularly on a scale like this?
That's the crux of the point, Jonathan, and that's why we're seeing people of this age now being brought to trial, sort of a race against time, so to speak, because you may remember in 2011, 10 years ago now, there was a major turning point in German criminal law when a man by the name of Demjanjuk, who is a Ukrainian man, he was the subject of a Netflix documentary last year.
Yeah, that that the devil next door, wasn't it? Exactly. Yeah. And he was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of 28000 inmates of Sobibor death camp, one of the most egregious examples of the Holocaust. And the judge essentially said in that case that it was impossible for someone to be a guard in one of these. Without being a part of the machinery of death, so it's very difficult to convict someone like this of being directly involved in the actual killing of people in a camp.
But what they're what they're arguing is that they played a role in maintaining the criteria or the the atmosphere or the the situation where the death camps could function. And that was a really landmark case, Jonathan, because then you were able to try people for being an accessory or assisting. So we're going to listen to a clip now how the Demjanjuk case was covered 10 years ago. We'll also hear from the from the prosecutor and Demjanjuk's own lawyer to.
Let's have a listen. A court in Germany this morning convicted former US citizen and accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk. Demjanjuk, who is now 91 years old, was charged with more than 28000 counts of accessory to murder. All four deaths that took place during World War Two. The German court in Munich sentenced Demjanjuk, who is in ill health, as you can see, to five years in prison.
John Demjanjuk, the accused Nazi guard taken by ambulance from his northeast Ohio home two years ago, wheeled out of court a convicted man.
There is no evidence he committed a specific crime, but prosecutors argued that if he was a guard at the camp, he was a participant in the murders.
Everybody who participated in murdering their family has to face his responsibilities to the end of his life. John Demjanjuk is just a scapegoat for the Germans that he has to pay for the mistakes they made in the past. And that's not justice.
My recollection was Demjanjuk even denied that he was Demjanjuk, the person they were looking for for quite a long time as well. That was his lawyer saying he thought the conviction was unfair.
So that particular case signaled a shift in how former Nazis could be prosecuted and then set in train the likelihood of other convictions. Tell us more about the cases that followed.
Yeah, exactly. It set a legal precedent, Jonathan, and that's why this 100 year old man, a 95 year old woman, are now going to trial for their role in maintaining the life threatening conditions necessary for mass murder to take place, I suppose, is the argument that the prosecutors will make. Now, one of the most famous cases that came after the Demjanjuk situation is that of Oscar groaning. Now, you might remember this from page three or four years ago, Jonathan.
He was in his 90s when he went on trial. He was the so-called bookkeeper of Auschwitz, and he was accused as an accomplice to the murder of some 300000 Hungarian Jews when he worked as a guard in Auschwitz. He was he argued that he was a desk jockey. He his role was to count the money and the assets that were taken off inmates as they arrived off the trains in Auschwitz. And he worked in a part of Auschwitz that was called Canada.
And anyone who's read the the bestseller, the tattooist of Auschwitz, which I know is very popular in Ireland last year, will know that this was the place where all those assets, the jewel, the jewelry, the the more the money, the coins, the notes were brought.
And he argued in court that he was morally guilty for his for his complicity, but that he wasn't criminally responsible because he didn't personally kill anyone.
But the judge decided otherwise and he was sentenced to four years in prison, of which he didn't do any time because he died in hospital before his term began. Another was Reinhold Hanning. He was also an SS guard at age 50. He was convicted in 2016 at the age of 94. But again, he died before he could serve any time in prison, although that particular man, he did express some contrition. Now groaning is dead. But he gave an extraordinary interview, Jonathan, to the BBC in 2005, in which he explained to Laurence Rees, the great historian, how he was made to believe that the extermination of the Jews was something that was necessary.
We're going to listen to an excerpt from that interview and also some archive news footage from the trial of Reinhold Hanning. And finally, we'll also hear from two survivors about what it means for people like Hanning and others to finally be brought to justice.
If we were convinced by our worldview that we had been betrayed by the entire world and that there was a great conspiracy of the Jews against US student Orleans and Kingdom, but surely when it comes to children and guns, you must have realised that they couldn't possibly have done anything to you, that you kinda the children, they're not the enemy at the moment.
The enemy is the blood inside them.
The enemy is the growing up to be a Jew that could become dangerous. And because of that, the children were included as well in.
A former Auschwitz guard has been sentenced to five years in jail after being convicted over his role at the Nazi death camp in what's likely to be one of Germany's last Holocaust trials. Reinhold Hanning, now 94, was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of at least 170000 people.
And he apologized to them at the end of April, saying he regretted being part of a criminal organization that had killed so many and caused so much suffering that a German court, particularly a German court, has actually sentenced a man for the terrible deeds that were done in Auschwitz and saw in the future. When somebody denies the Holocaust, I would be able to say, don't listen to me as a Holocaust survivor, but listen to the court in that world who said all of these things were true and he was able to sentence a German citizen for the crimes that were committed there.
It was an impossibility for any guards to work in that camp and not be aware of what was taking place. Some trainloads of Jews were checked into the camp and some were taken straight from the train to the gas chamber and were murdered within hours.
And it just shows you that the importance of putting on record what happened and bringing people to account justice doesn't wait, particularly when the crimes are so heinous. Newstalk reporter Simon Terry, thank you very much for that.