The last Nazi hunters
September 20, 2017 6:18 AM   Subscribe

Since 1958, a small department of Germany’s government has sought to bring members of the Third Reich to trial. A handful of prosecutors are still tracking down Nazis, but the world’s biggest cold-case investigation will soon be shut down.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (14 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
The way things are going in the world, if they just keep the doors open for another decade, they'll have work again.

More to the point, I admire the dedication and the insistence that they are part of the justice system, pursuing criminals.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:38 AM on September 20 [27 favorites]


It's a very long article (by Linda Kinstler), so for those who don't want to immerse themselves in it, here's the takeaway:
Many of the Nazis convicted in the trials that followed Nuremberg were released in the 1950s, when a series of amnesty laws passed by the newly minted West German parliament reinstated the pensions of Nazi soldiers and paroled 20,000 Nazis previously jailed for “deeds against life”. According to the German historian Norbert Frei, nearly 800,000 people benefited from amnesty laws. By the end of the decade, thousands of Nazis had been freed from German prisons and rehabilitated, taking up comfortable posts in the judiciary, police and state administration.

. . .

The first index cards were logged at the Central Office when it opened in December 1958. Yet, in truth, the office was never really meant to revise the West German policy of amnesty and reintegration. Its function was intended to be largely symbolic – a kind of alibi for a West German state that wanted to appear as if it were pursuing postwar justice without actually indicting the former Nazis who were once again part of the country’s establishment. As such, the Central Office was denied the ability to prosecute criminals itself. Its work was also hampered by the fact that German law contained no special provision for war crimes, and by a statute of limitations that made certain crimes nearly impossible to prosecute after 1960.
The rest is details of how people in the office tried to overcome those limitations and see at least a little justice done, which is admirable, but the important thing here is that Germany didn't give a damn about prosecuting Nazis. It gave them cushy jobs instead.
posted by languagehat at 6:40 AM on September 20 [26 favorites]


Also, they misspell minuscule as "miniscule." That's how you know it's the Grauniad.
posted by languagehat at 6:42 AM on September 20 [9 favorites]


The US employed them, too, so yeah, we'll give amnesty to murdering white supremacists but not immigrant refugee kids. That's us white people for you I guess. After WWII, Germany was more or less under the political leadership of the allies under the Marshall Plan, wasn't it? So of course a lot of Nazis got amnesty. We invited them to spy and make rockets for us under Operation Paperclip. The Nazi hunters were supposedly focused on the leaders who gave the orders, on the assumption the rank and file's claims about "just following orders" were sincere.

Fascinating glimpse into the history of my former homeland post WWII though. Thanks!
posted by saulgoodman at 6:58 AM on September 20 [6 favorites]


It also cast the Holocaust, legally and in the public imagination, as a sequence of ordinary murders, replacing the narrative of systematic, state-sponsored genocide with one of individually motivated killings.

This is such a common tactic for letting people off the hook for collective activities, subdividing the responsibility until it's too small to see. It also discourages collective action, replacing regulation with "ethical consumer choice," keeping resistance and restitution at a level too low to change anything.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:56 AM on September 20 [15 favorites]


For the obvious question about Jens Rommel, no, he's not related.
posted by zamboni at 9:45 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]


This post absolutely should have been titled Rommel's Revenge.
posted by w0mbat at 10:55 AM on September 20


Fascinating- I thought this was going to be a story about a long-busy office winding down as the war criminals they seek start to die of old age- instead it's a story of an office that really only started functioning fairly recently, despite being founded decades ago.
posted by Secretariat at 11:39 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


Also- uh, shouldn't someone digitize that archive?
posted by Secretariat at 11:41 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


The US employed them, too, so yeah, we'll give amnesty to murdering white supremacists but not immigrant refugee kids. That's us white people for you I guess. After WWII, Germany was more or less under the political leadership of the allies under the Marshall Plan, wasn't it? So of course a lot of Nazis got amnesty. We invited them to spy and make rockets for us under Operation Paperclip. The Nazi hunters were supposedly focused on the leaders who gave the orders, on the assumption the rank and file's claims about "just following orders" were sincere.

Man! Even when we were the Good Guys, we weren't really good guys.
posted by briank at 12:40 PM on September 20 [7 favorites]


it is definitely of it's time, but The Odessa File is a pretty great thriller with historically accurate portrayals of the infiltration of the West German state apparatus by nazis.

the film has merit as well.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:23 PM on September 20 [2 favorites]


As the article states, and Languagehat points out, this was mostly a PR stunt. In 1959 the West German government actively demanded of Greece, using economic blackmail, the release from jail of the "King of Salonica"- the Murderer in Chief of the Jews of Salonica of which all but 3% perished - Max Merten, allegedly caught by the authorities when he returned to Greece to recover his sunken loot.
posted by talos at 3:53 PM on September 20 [5 favorites]


> German government actively demanded of Greece, using economic blackmail

Man, nothing ever changes.
posted by languagehat at 5:05 PM on September 20 [5 favorites]


This looks interesting but the ending is a bit tendentious:
Why the Mossad failed to capture or kill so many fugitive Nazis

I mean, the authors recognise that Israel was taking immense diplomatic risks by sending death squads after Nazis, and it was evidently pretty hard to track them down. Saying that they didn't try hard enough because they'd have had more success if they had tried harder just begs the question.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:19 PM on September 24


« Older “I'll take two.”   |   So why is topology important? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments