Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 13:15 UK

In quotes: Germany on Demjanjuk

Suspected Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk faces charges of being an accessory to the deaths of 29,000 Jews. The German media reflect on the wider importance of his trial:


The trial against John Demjanjuk will probably be the last of the Nazi trials. Those final trials were and are terrible: not because the Nazi henchmen today are so terribly old, but because the German justice system in previous days was so terribly defaulting and so terribly lenient... The guilt of post-war justice can't be erased. But today's justice system can at least ascertain the guilt of the likes of Demjanjuk.


The young Federal Republic of Germany remained riddled with old Nazis and their followers... We owe it [the trial] to the victims - and to ourselves, our democracy, our community. Germany will never cast off the dark cloud of Nazi crimes; but it is up to us to lighten it a little with the light of truth.


The fact that the Ukrainian, who was a member of the SS security guards at the Sobibor death camp and as such allegedly assisted in killing 29,000 Jews, now at least has been charged by the German justice system, has great symbolic value. It documents that the rule of law in Germany is unrelenting in its efforts to seek out, if at all possible, all Nazi perpetrators still alive.


Yes, it might well be possible that a judgement against John Demjanjuk will never be enforced because he is too ill to remain in prison. But even that would not be farcical, would not be a failure. It is the price of the rule of law which treats even inhumane perpetrators in a humane way. It is the responsibility of a state governed by the rule of law to send a signal that the worst crimes will never be forgotten. It owes this to the victims and to democracy.


Demjanjuk is old and ill, maybe he will not be able to serve a sentence. Should he be found guilty it would be an important signal: guilt does not fall under the statute of time limitation. Nor does truth. The few survivors have to know that. It is their right.


Who benefits from the sentencing of [an alleged] 89-year old murderer? That's the wrong question. The question needs to be: What would it mean to not try a perpetrator because of his old age? It would mean that even a felon is rewarded by the justice system if he manages to escape it for long enough. It would mean a murderer triumphing over his victims for a second time.

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