Page last updated at 07:54 GMT, Monday, 23 March 2009
The hunt for the last Nazis

As the last remaining Nazis from World War II approach the end of their lives, it is debatable whether it is still worthwhile to pursue them.

Their crimes took place more than 60 years ago, it is often hard to gather evidence that will secure a conviction, and the defendants could die before the legal process is complete.

Here, two observers put the case for and against continuing efforts to trace and prosecute the guilty.


Bernard Josephs
While I understand the desire to bring these people to book, the fact is that it's for diminishing returns.

It costs a lot of money, it involves a lot of resources for something which I wouldn't say was not worthwhile, but at least is questionable.

There are a lot of Holocaust survivors and families who have suffered trauma, and these people do need help. They need counselling, support financially and otherwise.

We have today a situation where people do question the Holocaust and whether it really happened. I think Holocaust education is another direction where the money should be spent.

We have a burgeoning far right in Europe, and in the UK, and that needs to be addressed.

It's pointless to hunt them down now they're in their 80s and 90s - I would rather look after the survivors, and get their stories on record, so that no-one can deny what happened
I just feel that would be a better use of the money than putting on trial people who, in any case, are going to answer for their crimes in a much higher court than we have on earth.

I think hunting these men down now is pointless, but I am absolutely furious that these people, at relatively early ages, were able to carry on lives as normal after the war. We should have hunted them down years ago.

It's pointless to hunt them down now they're in their 80s and 90s. I would rather look after the survivors, and get their stories on record, so that no-one can deny what happened.


Bernd Koschland
We still have to persevere in pursuing the Nazi war criminal for a number of reasons.

They have committed crimes, so they need to be found and it needs to be logged, because otherwise it passes out of human knowledge.

If someone is found guilty then the sentence is really immaterial. What matters is that justice has to be done.

Even though it happened 60-odd years ago, the effects of it on individuals are still there - psychologically and physically.

Tracking Nazis down is an important lesson to demonstrate to potential modern-day human rights abusers that their crimes will never be tolerated
I came to the UK in 1939, but my parents and several other family members died at the hands of Nazis in camps in Izbica, Poland, and Riga in Latvia.

Tracking Nazis down is an important lesson to demonstrate to potential modern-day human rights abusers that their crimes will never be tolerated.

I don't think you can forgive these people their crimes. What you can do is build a bridge of understanding.

We can live alongside each other as long as we both remember I cannot forgive, you should not be able to forget, but let's build a kind of bridge between each other to make a better future.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

They both present valid arguments. I would err more toward reallocating the funds to educating people about the Holocaust. Those who are currently being pursued are more than likely subordinates and lower level guards, who would have been thrown into the gas chambers themselves if they had refused to carry out the orders that they were given. They should offer an amnesty to these people as an incentive to have them come forward, and allow the public scorn to suffice for their punishment. Using public funds to prosecute geriatrics is irresponsible. If we were talking about the Nazi policy makers, and higher level commanders, that would be one thing, but in the current economic situation, other, more pressing matters such as criminal justice funding, take precedence.
Ben, New York

What justice? They're 90y.o.! They lived full life, grew very old and probably reading this article with a smirk right now. Its pointless, as sad as it sounds - they've escaped justice in many ways. God will judge them. Why don't all those nazi-hunters stop living in the past and invest these efforts and finances into fighting skin-heads and other "nazi clubs" that are spreading around europe like a plague. If you're fighting the past - you're ignoring the future. And if we learned anything from history - it tends to repeat itself.
Vlad, Toronto. Canada.

"Tracking Nazis down is an important lesson to demonstrate to potential modern-day human rights abusers that their crimes will never be tolerated" how about we turn our efforts to actually prosecuting modern day human rights abusers, rather than chasing the phantoms of those which are now mostly dead. surely that is more of a deterent.
andy, guildford

The efforts and determination of Bernd Koschland and his colleagues is certainly admirable. We do need to trace down the people who were responsible for the worst crimes of the 20th century, for the sake of recording History. But whether it is economically justified or humane to put these very old men to trial is very arguable. In Austria we do have very tangible problems with racism and fascism, especially among young people. We could use the resources and attention on prosecuting Nazi criminals on combating today's problems.
Yik Fei Ko, Spittal an der Drau, Austria

If Hitler himself had escaped and was still around somewhere today, would we allow him to have a peaceful life and put his feet up to enjoy "retirement." Would we excuse him just because it was so long ago? Why should other Nazi criminals have that luxury just because their names are not as known to us as those who stood trial in Nuremberg? Who are we to tell the victims of the Holocaust to forget and forgive? If we had been through what they have, how well would we be sleeping at night? True, the punishment will not fit the crime. True, no money will bring back what has been lost. But how do you put a price tag on the peace of mind of millions who suffer to this very day?

Darren, London

While I in no way would ever deny the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime, as a historian I would also argue that we who now hunt all "collaborators" are in danger of risking close-mindedness ourselves. Yes, there were many who people who were able to commit appalling crimes under the Nazi regime, and by all means they should be brought to account for their actions for the sake of the dead and those who have to live with the past. Nevertheless, we must remember that Nazism was not just the Holocaust, not just violent anti-Semites, but a regime which controlled a whole country. Not all soldiers in the German army were Hitler, many were simly scared, brainwashed by Goebbels and his propaganda machine, and enlisted into fighting for the Nazis whether they wanted to or not. It is very well to say that all the prison camp guards should have resisted the regime when they saw the atrocities, but how many people can honestly say that they would have deserted, knowing they would be killed, and aware that the Nazis had hundreds more who they could force to do the same job? For these ordinary men in terrible circumstances, I think those still alive will have borne a worse punishment than any other from their own consciences. No need to keep hounding them for crimes they did not want to commit.
Ally, St Andrews, Scotland

Regardless of age, health, family, these murderers killed innocent men, women and children. They should be hounded to death. I have nothing but praise for the efforst of those organizations who continue to pursue these evil people.
David Ewing, paris, france

These people are the last surviving people to have participated in one of the worlds most horrific chapters. Life imprisonment is not the answer though. These people should be made to tour the world telling everyone what they have done until their dying day. Hiding them in four walls (certainly not execution) does no good at all. Listening to these people retell their terrible crimes may ring louder down through history than anything else
Graham, Coventry

It is to our everlasting shame that we did not hunt these people down long ago - but we should carry on until the very last in memory of those that suffered.
MG, London

These people know they are being hunted still. I'm sure that causes them some discomfort. If the hunt is given up that will give them cause to breathe a sigh of relief. Which situation is preferable?
Daniel, Leicester

Interesting contributions, I feel some sympathy with the arguments of Bernard Josephs. However, I would recommend the relentless efforts of people like Simon Wiesenthal for bringing war criminals to book. Would it not be a great deterrent for conflict if everyone involved knew that there was going to be justice at the end of the line? Are the efforts of the WSC not a formidable example that we all can hunt down war criminals, whether they were involved in Ireland, Iraq, Vietnam, ex-Yugoslavia, Gaza, Lebanon, Rwanda, Congo.. Sigi Mercelot, Belfast - Ireland

I think that the people who should decide if the remaining Nazis deserve punishment after all this time are the survivors of the holocaust. If they want justice then we should help them, but otherwise it should be left for a judgement that will come one day, that will be bigger and more important than anything here on earth.

Like others have said, money should be spent on helping the survivors with counselling and support - Also on educating the following generations, so that this event will never be forgot or denied.

This country has enough problems to deal with at present without digging up more from the past before we have even solved the current ones.
Hannah , Coventry

Did they ever refrain from murdering someone because they were too old, too sick, too frail, or even too young? Could you forgive someone who had butchered your own mother or father, brother or sister; if you knew that they still lived? The crimes that these men committed are so wicked, that we must never let them sleep even one night in their beds, without them having that fear of being caught and punished.
David, Riga, Latvia

Surely by definition, all crimes committed are crimes of the past? We still hunt down individual murderers who committed their crimes 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. Why should we stop hunting them down after 60 years if they're still alive? Their crime is made no less brutal, or no less significant by the passage of time. The victims still deserve to see justice done, even if the perpetrator is now an elderly pensioner.

If we are willing to leave their crimes unpunished, then perhaps we are in danger of forgetting the true reality of what these people did all those years ago.
A Watson, Aberdeen, Scotland

If possible, the money should be diverted to aged Holocaust survivors in difficult financial circumstances, to members of the second generation (who have a high incidence of emotional difficulties but got no reparations money from the Germans), and to Holocaust education. A show trial does not help the many people who are still suffering the after-effects of the Holocaust seventy years later. Nor do I believe a show trial does anything for Holocaust education. Teach it properly in schools instead. I am a member of the second generation.
Miki Barnea, Melbourne, Australia

These people should be hunted down relentlessly no matter what age they are now. Anyone who commits this atrocity in the future must have it in their minds that no matter where they go or how long they manage to hide that justice will eventually be done.
David Pincott, Sidcup

Apart from the fact that my parents both lost the majority of their family in the holocaust and were both lucky to be accepeted into this country, my mother on the "childrens transport" and my father by being rescued by ship in the british channel and then having witnessed the pain, suffering and guilt of surviving every day of their lives, It is important that those guilty are brought to justice and that they live every day of their lives in the fear of it. Also it reminds people who would rather forget or who think that the girl in the red coat in the film schindlers list is the holocaust that it was not that long ago and no one should be allowed to get away with it then now or in the future against any race or culture.
mark jacobson, newcastle upon tyne, uk

Is it time to draw a conclusion on this (chasing Nazi's) and say that enough is enough. Whilst in an ideal world all these monsters should have been brought to justice, in reality, some have escaped and some have died. Is it really worth the great time and expense chasing 80 and 90 year old men?

Wouldn't that money be better spent on places such as Rwanda and Sudan to name a few, were similar attrocities have occured in more recent times?
Ray, Liverpool

The people deserve justice, as a member of the jewish community I think justice needs to be served.
James Heron, Glasgow

A difficult question; when should the hunt be stopped? another 5 years?, another 10 years?, and then what should be done, perhaps now is the time to consider the transit from hunting to recording & educating. Also young victims will outlive the criminals...what do they think should be done?
Tony, London

This might upset some and, if so, I apologise in advance but forgiveness is the most powerful way of dealing with this issue.

One can talk of justice but in the case of these aging Nazi's this is pointless. They have got away with their crimes and are so close to death now they surely care not about their physical future.

Let those who have committed these unspeakable acts come forward and apologise. Let those who have been in these camps find it in their hearts to forgive.

There should be no question of forgetting the holocaust but if our world is driven by nothing more than a need for retribution and the acrid bitterness of long ago events then we can never move forward.
Bill Geddes, Macclesfield

Stop hunting phantoms and stop being obsessed about a historic event that happened more than 60 years ago. Germany today is probalby one of the few countries around the globe that has learned from history...

The English however are still obsessed with the Nazis more than any other country, but they actually know very little. They need to keep the phantom enemy alive to distract the world from their own bleak history.

What about looking at the countless war crimes and the millions killed during British colonial rule.

Not one serious effort has ever been made by England and the English to de-glorify their recent history.

Where ever Britons put their feet there has been death and war: Zimbabwe, Gaza/Israel, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Iraq just to name a few.

And donīt forget the genocide of natives in North America, Australia etc.

England has itīs own war criminals, but no one puts them to trial...
Mike, London

Your e-mail address
Town/city and country
Your comment

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific