Germany's top Nazi hunter to keep up chase for another decade

Thu Mar 17, 2016 8:38am EDT
 
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By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN (Reuters) - Undeterred by dwindling numbers of living suspects, Germany's top Nazi hunter is determined to keep tracking down criminals involved in Hitler's murder machine for another decade.

As a handful of new Auschwitz-related trials get underway, Jens Rommel says his work is getting more difficult every year and yields only modest results. But it still matters.

"We help to make sure these crimes don't disappear into history and that they have a relevance today ... There is still a lot of work to do," said Rommel, no relation to Hitler's Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

Aging suspects, most of whom deny guilt, are growing frail, making the race to prosecute them all the more pressing.

Germany's state justice ministers last year gave Rommel's Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes up to 10 more years to continue its investigative work, before it is turned into a documentation center.

The 2011 conviction of Sobibor death camp guard John Demjanjuk also gave it new legal territory to explore - it was the first time that involvement in a death camp was seen as sufficient grounds for culpability even without proof of a specific crime.

"Even with no hard proof of a specific deed, being a wheel in the machinery of a camp is now punishable," said Rommel.

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Defendant Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former guard at Auschwitz death camp, is pushed in a wheelchair after a break in his trial in Detmold, Germany, in this file picture taken February 18, 2016. REUTERS/Bernd Thissen/Pool/Files