Analysis: How I decide which Nazis we must pursue

By Efraim Zuroff, April 15, 2010

Earlier this week, Israel and the Jewish world marked Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day.

This year, for the ninth time, we used the day to release our annual report on the worldwide investigation and prosecution of Nazi war criminals, and a "Most Wanted" list of Nazi criminals.

The names and stories of the criminals who are considered the worst always attract widest attention. On a certain level, this is only natural. With the Holocaust firmly enshrined as the worst example of man's inhumanity to his fellow man, there is interest in the identities of its worst villains.

These days, however, the task of ranking the criminals has become more complex than ever. The architects and main perpetrators of the Holocaust are dead. Gone are the days when it was no problem to compile a list headed by the likes of Gestapo chief Heinrich Mueller, and escaped commanders of death camps and Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units). But many of their middle and lower level henchmen remain alive, unprosecuted and, thanks to the advances of modern medicine, healthy enough to be held accountable for their crimes.

The major problem in compiling such a list in 2010 is not the lack of suspects, but rather the difficulty in assessing their degree of guilt in order to be able to rank them fairly.

We have therefore delineated three major criteria to assess criminal responsibility for Holocaust crimes:

1. Degree of command responsibility

2. The extent of personal involvement in murder

3. The scope of the crime.

Thus an officer whose decisions sealed the fate of hundreds or possibly thousands of innocent civilians would obviously be accorded a high rank even if he had personally not killed a single person. A guard in a death camp without command responsibility but who participated in the mass murder of tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of inmates, although he may not have personally pushed them into the gas chambers, would be ranked higher than a person who committed a limited number of individual murders him or herself.

This year's top suspects could basically be divided into three major categories: individuals with command responsibility whose decisions determined the fate of at least hundreds of victims; persons who served in units which carried out mass murder who had no command responsibility, among them some individuals who clearly were actively involved in the process of mass murder and others whose precise role requires additional clarification; and men (no women on this list for the third year in a row) who personally committed at least one murder.

The first two spots this year were therefore given to individuals who appear to fall into the first category. These were Hungarian gendarmerie officer Dr Sandor Kepiro (currently residing in Budapest), who is accused of being among the officer organisers of the mass murder of at least 1,200 civilians (mostly Jews, the others Serbs and gypsies) in Novi Sad, Serbia, on January 23, 1942; and Croatian police chief Dr Milivoj Asner (Austria) who is accused of deporting hundreds of Serbs, Jews, and gypsies to Ustasha concentration camps where they were murdered.

At number three is a man who appears to fall into the second category. Samuel Kunz (Bonn) allegedly served as a guard at the Belzec death camp, where approximately 600,000 Jews were murdered with the active assistance of all the camp personnel.

Others who are accused of serving in units involved in killing Jews and others but about whom we have no evidence of personal participation in murder were given the last three slots. Number eight is Peter Egner (Seattle, USA), allegedly of the Belgrade Gestapo; nine is Algimantas Dailide (Germany), accused of being a member of the Lithuanian Security Police in Vilnius; and number 10 is Mikhail Gorshkow (Estonia), who allegedly served in the Gestapo in Belarus.

The remaining places were given to those accused of committing individual murders themselves. The highest rank was given to German Adolf Storms (Duisberg, Germany) who is alleged to have actively participated with his unit in a massacre of 58 Jewish forced labourers in March 1945. The others on the list are Dutch Nazi collaborator Klaas Carel Faber (Ingolstadt, Germany) who murdered at least 11 Jews and Dutch anti-Nazis; Hungarian army sergeant Karoly (Charles) Zentai (Perth, Australia), who allegedly murdered a Jewish teenager he caught in Budapest without a yellow star, and Danish Nazi Soeren Kam (Kempten, Germany) who, as he admits, killed a local anti-Nazi newspaper editor.

The list represents a wide geographic scope and ethnic composition, which underscores the extensive auxiliary role of non-Germans in the crimes of the Holocaust, and the fact that bringing them to justice today is a global problem, not confined to Europe.

The good news is that of the three men who had to be replaced from last year's "Most Wanted" list, two have been brought to trial during the past few year with number six, Dutch SS executioner Heinrich Boere, already convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, and number one, Ukrainian Sobibor death camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk, facing charges of mass murder in Munich.

Only number 10, Estonian Political Police operative Harry Mannil, escaped prosecution by passing away.

Hopefully, this coming year we will see at least similar, if not better, results.

Dr Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. His latest book Operation Last Chance: One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice, was published recently by Palgrave/Macmillan

Last updated: 2:32pm, April 16 2010