The Simon Wiesenthal Centre has identified dozens of former members of Nazi mobile death squads who might still be alive, and is pushing the German government for an investigation.
The centre’s top Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, said that in September he sent the German justice and interior ministries a list of 76 men and four women who served in the so-called Einsatzgruppen.
Mr Zuroff narrowed down the list of possible suspects by choosing the youngest from a list of 1,100 known to his organisation from an estimated 3,000 members of the death squads.
All 80 would be very old if still alive, with dates of birth between 1920 and 1924, he said.
“Time is running out,” Mr Zuroff said. “Something has to be done.”
Germany’s Interior Ministry had no immediate comment but the Justice Ministry said it had passed the details of the letter to the special federal prosecutors’ office that investigates Nazi-era crimes.
The head of that office, Kurt Schrimm, said he has not yet received the new information.
The Einsatzgruppen followed Nazi troops as they battled their way eastwards in the early years of the war, rounding up and shooting Jews in the opening salvo of the Holocaust before the death camp system was up and running.
According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, they had killed more than a million Soviet Jews and tens of thousands of others by spring 1943.
A handful of Einsatzgruppen members were tried and convicted after the war but most have gone unpunished.
Mr Schrimm has said they could be prosecuted under new German legal theory that service in a Nazi unit whose sole purpose was murder is enough to convict someone of accessory to murder – even without evidence of participation in a specific crime.
A spokesperson from the Holocaust Educational Trust responded by saying: “The passage of time is no defence for the crimes committed during the Holocaust.”
“Nearly seventy years on from the end of the Holocaust, we are more aware than ever that time is running out to bring the perpetrators to justice.”