“The Last Nazi Hunter” Meets “The Last Survivor”
Is there an expiration date on justice? Efraim Zuroff doesn’t think so.
After more than thirty years as the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, Zuroff knows a thing or two about justice. His relentless pursuit of Nazi war criminals has formed the backbone of his life purpose, not to mention his iconic moniker. To the world, Zuroff is “the last Nazi hunter”—and the subject of an upcoming CNN documentary by the same name.
The title suits him, especially in light of the joint project launched by the Wiesenthal Center and the Targum Shlishi Foundation of Miami in 2002. “Operation: Last Chance,” as its name implies, is apt to be the last concerted, international effort to locate Nazi war criminals and bring them to justice. Faced with the increasing difficulties of such a task, the goal of the initiative is to “offer financial rewards of up to 10,000 euros for information which will help facilitate the prosecution and punishment of Holocaust perpetrators.” The project is currently active in Germany, Austria, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
Some people question the morality of convicting 80- and 90-year-old men (and occasionally women) for crimes they committed more than half a century ago. Surely they’ve repented. Surely they’ve realized that what they did was wrong. But not only is Zuroff unconvinced; he’s uninterested. The passage of time does nothing to absolve the guilt of a mass murderer. There is no statute of limitations on genocide.
And here we’ve stumbled upon a fascinating issue: the question of justice and accountability. If we cease to hold perpetrators of genocide accountable for the atrocities they committed, what are we doing if not condoning mass murder? There’s no such thing as a geriatric “get out of jail free” card for those who have committed heinous crimes.
Unfortunately, the legal systems in the countries where Operation: Last Chance operates are not always of accord. Even when Nazi war criminals are located, they rarely receive punishments commensurate with the crimes they committed. “In Lithuania, three Nazi war criminals were prosecuted,” Zuroff explains in a recent discussion with Forward newspaper, “but they made a mockery of the judicial process by making sure they never would be punished.”
Does this scenario sound eerily familiar? “A mockery of the judicial process”?
On March 4, 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. To date, over 500,000 Darfuris have been murdered by Bashir’s state-sponsored Janjaweed militia, and over 3 million have been displaced from their homes. But the ICC can only act when a state is unwilling or unable to carry out an investigation or prosecution. And, more than a year later, the Sudanese government is still balking at the warrant. Not only is a convicted war criminal still at large; he’s just been re-elected President.
According to Simon Goldberg, President of the Student Holocaust Education Movement:
This dictator shares the same comfort Nazi perpetrators enjoy in their tucked-away villas and their downtown coffeehouses. What’s more, Al-Bashir remains unmistakably free to engage in war crimes, the menu of which defies description. But, with the Sudanese government denying any allegations of direct attacks against the civilian population; Sudanese officials refusing to cooperate with ICC prosecutors; and the unshakable support of the Arab League and Islamic Conference Organization, the indictment is bound to remain just that—an indictment.
Efraim Zuroff has dedicated thirty years of his life to tracking down perpetrators of the Holocaust. The research is never-ending—digging through old newspapers and photographs, traveling the world to collect testimonies of surviving victims, peeling back years of darkness and secrecy for the truth beneath.
Meanwhile, Bashir moves in the clear light of day: a convicted war criminal, a mass murderer, and an avid denier of the charges brought against him. When will he be held accountable for his actions? How long will the other countries of the world stand idly by? And when do we follow the example of Adam Bashar, the Darfuri refugee and activist featured in The Last Survivor, and speak out?
CNN has yet to decide whether to air The Last Nazi Hunter. They’re not convinced that there’s enough public interest in a documentary about a man who has predicated his life’s work on the notion that the fight for justice is justice itself. “What Zuroff achieves,” says Goldberg, “regardless of how many Nazi criminals ultimately die in isolated cells, is the preservation and propagation of human dignity in the purest of forms.”
It’s time we prove the media bigwigs wrong and raise our voices in the battle for human dignity. Please watch the The Last Nazi Hunter on CNN. Then take the 30 seconds to create a (free) account and leave your comments.
We WILL fight for justice, and we won’t be silent until it’s served. Now let’s tell the world.
And so I remain,