“Operation Last Chance” was launched on Tuesday and offers the German public a grand total of 25,000 euro ($33,000) for any information pertaining to surviving suspects complicit in World War II hate crimes.
The posters depict an ominous photograph of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi-run death camp, with a tagline that reads: “Late, but not too late.”
“Millions of innocents were murdered by Nazi war criminals. Some of the perpetrators are free and alive,” the posters continue. “Help us to bring them before a court.”
One former war criminal, Ivan Demjanjuk, was convicted as late as 2011. Demjanjuk was a concentration camp survivor found guilty of complicity in some 30,000 Jewish deaths in German-occupied Poland during World War II. He is being cited as an example by the center as a reason for people not to rest on their laurels when it comes to catching remaining war criminals.
“This conviction paves the way for additional prosecutions of individuals who served in death camps, as well as the members of the Einsatzgruppen [mobile killing units],” stated the center’s chief Nazi-hunter and Israel director Dr. Efraim Zuroff.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is dismissive of anyone who questions the value of bringing elderly war criminals “to justice,” listing five points for the apprehensive observer to take into consideration, two of which are: “The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers,” and “old age should not afford immunity to murderers.”
Zuroff is adamant that remaining Nazi war criminals should be made to face up to their actions regardless of the passage of decades since the close of World War II.
“In my 33 years of hunting Nazis I never once had a case of a Nazi who ever said he was sorry,” Zuroff told AFP. “These are the last people on Earth deserving any sympathy because they had absolutely no sympathy for their victims.”
Two cases earlier this year saw two men in their 90s charged with their role in enabling mass atrocities to take place. In June, Laszlo Lajos Csatari, 98, was charged in Hungary with organizing the deportation of some 12,000 Jews to death camps while a former Auschwitz guard named Hans Lipschis, 93, was arrested in Germany under suspicion of complicity in mass murder. Lipschis, who was a cook, contends that the only role he played was in the kitchen.
The campaign has left some experts unimpressed. German-Israeli historian Michael Wolffson told German station Deutschlandradio Kultur that “on the contrary, the effect will rather be to trigger pity towards people who deserve no pity,” adding that “it's downright disrespectful and shameless” to offer so much for dangerous criminals.
A fellow Nazi hunter named Serge Klarsfeld also disagreed, saying that the 11th-hour bid for justice “left a bitter aftertaste.”
“At the time when it was possible to try the criminals, when there was evidence, Germany failed to do its work,” he said.