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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, 18:46 GMT 19:46 UK
Holocaust hotline anger in Poland
Marek Bekerman
BBC News Online

Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal
Simon Wiesenthal survived the Nazi death camps of World War II
An international organisation dedicated to hunting down Holocaust war criminals has opened a telephone hotline for potential informants in Poland.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre is the group behind the move.

It is offering financial rewards for information leading to the successful prosecution of collaborators in the murder of Jews during World War II.

The move is part of a campaign to bring them to justice before they, or witnesses, die of old age.

'Hundreds alive'

Launched two years ago, Operation Last Chance initially targeted Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

Nearly all Jews living during the war in the lands which are now the three Baltic states were wiped out in the Nazi Holocaust.

Ever since the Baltic states gained independence more than a decade ago, there have been no new cases against suspected war criminals there.

But Efraim Zuroff - the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, based in Jerusalem - says there are still hundreds of them alive.

Operation Last Chance has been extended to include Austria, Romania and Poland, and will soon also take in Germany, Hungary, Ukraine and Argentina.

The campaign offers rewards of $12,000 for information leading to a conviction.


Within its pre-war borders, Poland was home to more than three million Jews.

Many Poles complain that they have been disproportionately blamed for Holocaust crimes committed during the war, and maintain that other nationals in Eastern Europe were far more active collaborators in war crimes against Jews.

The inauguration on Wednesday, after a long delay, of the information hotline in Poland, has sparked a political controversy.

A prominent politician and historian, Bronislaw Geremek - well-known for his stance against all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism - has said he is disgusted by the initiative, and by the idea of offering money for information.

He said the world should first know how much good the Poles did during the war saving many Jews from the Nazis.

The deputy head of Poland's Institute of National Remembrance, which oversees the prosecution of war criminals, Witold Kulesza, said Poland should not be included in Operation Last Chance.

He says the country has been consistently committed to prosecuting war criminals since the end of the war, and has successfully convicted a number of perpetrators of the Holocaust.

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