Former Nazis don’t get a pass

January 28, 2016

Next month, a 95-year-old German man will go on trial for war crimes he is alleged to have committed as a medical attendant in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during World War II. The man, Hubert Zafke, is charged with more than 3,600 counts of being an accessory to murder.


In his capacity as a paramedic, he did not participate directly in the camp’s atrocities, but the prosecution is arguing that by being posted there, he helped facilitate the camp’s purpose of extermination. Zafke’s trial comes a year after the trial of Oskar Groening, a bookkeeper at Auschwitz who was found guilty of being an accessory to more than 300,000 murders.


These two men are representative of the German government’s desire to bring the remaining members of the SS who were involved in these camps to justice. The two men, both in their 90s, are some of the last remaining Nazi guards still living. Rounding up the entirety of the remaining SS members is a race against time for the German government. Is it worth it? The crimes these men are connected with were done more than 70 years ago, in a time of war. Can they still be held accountable? Yes.


The Holocaust is an event that had a massive effect on civilization. The event that literally coined the term “genocide,” it showed the world what people were capable of when their hatred was kindled, stoked and then left to rage unchecked. Punishment for involvement in this crime is useless for punishment’s sake. The crime exists on a plane detached from normal deviation from civilized practices.


Germany must continue these efforts in order to let the remaining survivors and their descendants know the world has not forgotten about the tragedy. These men are incapable of being punished in any form that could carry the correct weight. What is a jail term to men who took part in trying to destroy an entire ethnic group? The courts know this, too. The terms seem inconsequential when looked at next to the crimes.Groening was sentenced to four years in jail. That’s four years for 300,000 counts of being an accessory to murder.


At 94, he likely will not live to see the end of his prison term. But that’s not the point. The world cannot forget what happened those many years ago, and cannot forget the destruction wrought in Europe and around the world. These men need to be brought to justice. Cold cases are solved for lesser crimes every day, and so these crimes should not be forgotten.


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