Sunday, October 9, 2011


In July of 2011, John Demjanjuk, former U.S. autoworker who was deported to Germany to stand trial, was convicted of 28,060 counts of accessory to murder for serving as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Munich prosecutors argued that if they could prove that he was a guard at a camp like Sobibor --established for the sole purpose of extermination--it was enough to convict him of accessory to murder as a part of the Nazi's machinery of destruction. It was the first time someone was convicted in a Nazi-era case without direct evidence that the suspect participated in a specific killing.

It has not yet been tested in court whether the Demjanjuk precedent could be extended to guards of Nazi camps where thousands died but whose sole purpose was not necessarily murder. Murder and related offenses are the only charges in Germany that are not subject to a statute of limitations.

Immediately after the war, top Nazis were convicted at war crimes tribunals run by the Allied powers while investigations of the lower ranks eventually fell to German courts. But there was little political will to aggressively pursue the prosecutions, and many of the trials ended with short sentences or the acquittal of suspects in greater positions of responsibility than Demjanjuk had. However, the current generation of prosecutors and judges in Germany has shown a new willingness to pursue even the lower ranks.

The enemy is time. The number of victims and Nazi criminals still alive is lessening daily. The test for the German judicial system is to see if prosecutions can be expedited in an appropriate manner to enable these cases to go forward. The sights have been reset and progress is being made.

And, yet, on the other hand.....................

Acquaintances, of the Jewish faith, recently vacationed in Germany. On their list of things to do was a visit to Dachau, the site of a World War II death camp. When they advised the hotel of their plan, they were offered the services of a guide with vast experience in this sort of thing. During the drive, he began theorizing on the Holocaust and told them the following: Hitler was completely misunderstood. The actual culprits were Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda who committed suicide rather than surrender to the Allies, and Herman Goering, Nazi leader and politician, who, having been sentenced to death at the Nuremberg war trials, committed suicide in his cell. They acted without Hitler's knowledge, who, in his own way, was not a dedicated anti-Semite. Further, he explained, gas chambers and crematoriums never existed. To be sure, he acknowledged, people died at Dachau, but this was from over-work and not as a result of premeditated murder. When they were shown structures clearly having served as gas chambers and ovens, he steadfastly denied their existence.

Upon their return to the U.S., the couple wrote a detailed letter of complaint to the hotel, which reflected its "sadness" for the experience and wished the senders a happy Jewish new year.

In a contest of evil, between perpetrators of the Holocaust and the denying revisionists, the difference is not distinguishable. Anti-Semitism was ingrained into the population of the Nazi years. This was not without exception. There were German citizens who risked their own lives to save others during this black chapter of history. The new generation, and its leaders, seeks to dissipate the taint of its forebears.

The necessary element of passage of time is in no way inconsistent with "never forget."

Learning from confronting effectuates cognitive therapy.

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