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Voice of the Jewish News: No best-before date

There will be those who ask what the point is in pursuing elderly Nazi criminals. This week's editorial says their victims deserve justice, regardless of the perpetrators' age

Jewish News
John Demjanjuk, formerly known as Ivan, was taken into court on a stretcher for his trial as a suspected Nazi war criminal. He was convicted of being an accessory to murder in 2011 (Photo: dpa)
John Demjanjuk, formerly known as Ivan, was taken into court on a stretcher for his trial as a suspected Nazi war criminal. He was convicted of being an accessory to murder in 2011 (Photo: dpa)

Prosecutors in states across Germany are in a battle against time. Within just a few short years – perhaps months – old age will have claimed the last of those who may have assisted Nazi genocide.

One of the latest suspects set for trial over alleged Third Reich war crimes is so old that court sessions requiring his presence will be limited to two hours a day. The 100-year-old defendant has not been named, as is German custom in criminal trials, but the indictment is quite clear: prosecutors say he was an accessory to murder at a concentration camp near Berlin.

Last week, it emerged that more than a dozen other indictments are in the works. All suspects are nonagenarians, some in ill health. Other prosecutions have collapsed because the suspects are suffering from dementia and cannot possibly defend themselves in court.

There will be those who ask what the point is in pursuing the elderly and the infirm. Should there not be a sense of compassion and dignity for their twilight years?

But, like the suspects, a large but dwindling number of Holocaust survivors are alive too. They witnessed the horrors of the darkest days of the Second World War. They were denied compassion and dignity. They now deserve to witness as much justice as possible.

Then there are today’s young people, likely the first generation not to have an opportunity to hear first-hand testimony from a survivor. We must teach them that justice is always a cause worth pursuing, however late.

Germany is responsible for some of the worst crimes in history, yet has done more than any other country in the pursuit of atonement. It would not be right to stop now.

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