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Why Pursue Justice against Aging Nazis?

Why Pursue Justice against Aging Nazis?

Efraim Zuroff wants the world to know that injustice won't be tolerated.


On June 18, 2013, Hungary charged Laszlo Csatary, a 98-year-old former concentration camp commander, with assisting in the murder of over 15,000 Jews during World War II. (The announcement came days after German and Polish officials said they would review evidence that a Minnesota man, Michael Karkoc, was a former concentration camp commander and might be indicted on war crimes, too.)

Laszlo Csatary was known for not only overseeing Jews’ deportations and deaths, but also for torturing and murdering Jewish prisoners personally. Instead of being arrested and prosecuted after the War, however, Csatary managed to get papers to emigrate to Canada, where he lived undisturbed for decades.

My recent article about the startling roles the Red Cross and Vatican played in helping Nazi war criminals like Csatary evade justice after World War II generated lots of reader comments. While many applauded efforts to bring these escaped Nazis to justice today, others wondered if perhaps it was too late. Some doubted the value of prosecuting Nazis at all. Maybe, they asked, Nazis should be left to divine justice instead of human courts?

As the number of Nazi war criminals dwindles, Laszlo Csatary’s trial – and, if enough evidence is found, Michael Karkoc’s too – will be among the very final opportunities the world has to bring justice to criminals from this era.

Efraim ZuroffEfraim Zuroff

How does the man most responsible for bringing Csatary and dozens of other Nazis to justice – Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel Office – explain why it’s important to pursue justice against Nazi war criminals, even at this late date? In a world where many question whether we ought to be pursuing the last of the surviving Nazi war criminals, how would Nazi-hunter Zuroff justify his tireless life’s work?

Speaking with on the day Csatary was charged, Efriam Zuroff sounded elated.

He’d worked on the Csatary case for years, first offering a reward for information leading to his capture, then tracking Csatary and painstakingly building up evidence, before turning it over to Hungarian authorities in 2011 and waiting for them to make their own investigation, which spanned over two years.

“In many respects this is one of the most frustrating jobs in the world,” Zuroff said of the long, hard road he’d travelled to bring one Nazi to trial. “It’s like Sisyphus, rolling the stone up the hill, only for it to come back down.”

Reaching the age of 90 doesn’t turn a mass murderer into a righteous gentile.

Zuroff, who estimates he’s played a role in bringing about 40 Nazis to justice over his career, says there are two ways of looking at his efforts. One the one hand, given that tens of thousands of Nazi war criminals escaped trial after World War II, Zuroff says what he’s accomplished is “gurnisht” – nothing. But that’s not how he sees it.

“Look at it differently,” Zuroff says. “Every time a Nazi war criminal is exposed, is indicted, is brought to trial, is punished, it’s a victory for the good guys – for society, for tikkun olam (repairing the world).”

“The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers,” Zuroff told “Old age shouldn’t afford protection to people who committed such heinous crimes. Reaching the age of 90-plus doesn’t turn a mass murderer into a righteous gentile.”

In fact, Zuroff recounts that in the many cases he’s worked on, he’s never seen a single Nazi war criminal who ever expressed remorse or contrition. On the contrary: Zuroff’s powerful book Operation Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice details case after case of Nazi war criminals who remained sheltered and protected by sympathetic friends, and even government officials, who continue to aid elderly Nazis even well into the 21st century. (In once case, that of Milivoj Asner, a Croatian Nazi living openly in Austria in the 1990s, Jorg Haider – then a regional governor and later a member of Austria’s ruling coalition government – personally protected the former Nazi and blocked international efforts to bring him to trial.)

In the past few decades, as more has been written and studied about the Holocaust, Zuroff points out, former Nazi officials could easily express remorse if they wished. “These people could say, ‘We made a mistake, we were brainwashed, we thought Jews were the enemy – and we’re sorry.’ But we never had a case of a person who expressed remorse or regret. These are the last people on earth who deserve any sympathy, because they had no sympathy for their victims.”

This dedication to the memory of Nazis victims keeps Zuroff and many of his Nazi-hunting colleagues motivated. “Our obligation is to the victims and that is to find those who turned them into victims,” Zuroff says: “We’ve lost the battle to bring all the Nazis to justice decades ago, but each one we can bring to trial today is a victory.”

If you commit crimes against Jews, the Jewish people will bring you to justice.

Working hard to extend justice to murderers, even decades after their crimes, sends a message to the world that injustice won’t be tolerated. The Nazi hunters at the Simon Wiesenthal Center want to tell the world: “If you commit crimes against the Jewish people, the Jewish people will bring you to justice.”

He stresses this message is universal too, and that all victims – from all countries, ethnicities and religions – deserve justice. The Simon Wiesenthal Center pursues Nazis who killed innocent Roma, Serbs, and other groups during the Holocaust, and Zuroff has consulted on post-genocide nation-building in Rwanda.

In all cases, he warns that allowing murders to go unpunished is a form of “moral pollution” in countries. Nations that have not dealt with citizens who committed crimes against humanity tend to be those with resurgent fascist and anti-Semitic political parties today. “What does it look like with no justice?” he asks. “Look at some nations in eastern Europe today that have very strong fascist parties,” he points out, where Jews and other minorities cannot live safely or even walk about outside without fear of violence: “This is where a refusal to condemn past atrocities can lead.”

In many nations, Zuroff observed, war criminals explain their deeds as acts of patriotism. One function to bringing criminals to trial, therefore, is redefining this distorted view of heroism. “Heroes should be their righteous among the nations,” Zuroff explains. By prosecuting killers, countries are shining a spotlight on criminal acts, and sending a message that xenophobia, torture and murder are incompatible with a civilized society.

Zuroff credits his Jewish faith with motivating him to seek justice for Nazis, even decades after their crimes. “Part of my being an observant Jew goes beyond me praying three times a day, keeping kosher and Shabbat,” Zuroff explains. “Being an observant Jew also means a commitment to the security of the Jewish people, and a mission to make the world a better place.”

He quotes the Torah: “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20), and says he often asks himself about the Torah’s choice of words. Why “justice” and why “pursue”? After many years of working to bring some of the most heinous criminals to trial – often against the efforts of obstructionist regional or national officials – Zuroff thinks he’s gained some insights into this crucial Biblical injunction.

Why “pursue”? “Justice doesn’t just fall into your hands,” Zuroff relates. “You have to pursue it and work hard at it.” And why does the Torah say “justice” twice? Zuroff observes: “My interpretation is you have to be an honest broker,” transparent in all your dealings, including efforts to bring Nazis to trial.

We are the last generation who will be able to bring Nazi war criminals to trial. Efraim Zuroff and his colleagues are carrying out this mission on behalf of all of us – the entire Jewish people, and the world – to bring the last living perpetrators of the Holocaust to their final, belated, account.

Further information on the Simon Wiesenthal Center, including information on  rewards for information leading to the arrest of Nazi war criminals, can be found at

June 22, 2013

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 26

(19) Anonymous, October 19, 2015 5:12 PM

Trader Joe's and Aldi's

The Albrect Brothers according to Wikipedia were committed Nazis. They were allowed to live and thrive in the US. They didn't allow themselves to be photographed, but they were able to establish two large, popular grocery chains across the United States. How did this happen? Who else are we supporting? There is always a trail. Investigate before you invest or purchase. Otherwise, we may be supporting the very ones who would kill us.

(18) Anonymous, July 23, 2013 4:56 PM

Their children and grandchildren

Perhaps these retired (not ex) nazis never revealed their war record to their next generation and now they stand exposed. That alone is justice, and is the reward of hunting them like the mad dogs they are.

And perhaps they will be treated by their loved ones as the monsters they really are, and will die broken and alone. At any rate, it will be up to HaShem to determine the appropriate justice, but first man has to do the physical work.

(17) rt, June 25, 2013 7:39 PM

the irrelevance of age

this question has never troubled me; among the slaughtered were many elderly (usually the first to die in the camps r"l) these criminals had no hesitation murdering the elderly, why should justice be different for them?

(16) Ray Hoffer, June 25, 2013 4:34 PM

Some additional thoughts...

"Justice delayed is justice denied" is a legal maxim meaning that if legal redress is available for a party that has suffered some injury, but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no redress at all. This principle is the basis for the right to a speedy trial and similar rights which are meant to expedite the legal system, because it is unfair for the injured party to have to sustain the injury with little hope for resolution. The phrase has become a rallying cry for legal reformers who view courts or governments as acting too slowly in resolving legal issues either because the existing system is too complex or overburdened, or because the issue or party in question lacks political favour. The idea expressed by the phrase can already be found in the Pirkei Avot 5:8, a section of the Mishnah (1st century BCE – 2nd century CE): "Our Rabbis taught: ...The sword comes into the world, because of justice delayed and justice denied...",[2] . As Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger noted in an address to the American Bar Association in 1970: "A sense of confidence in the courts is essential to maintain the fabric of ordered liberty for a free people and three things could destroy that confidence and do incalculable damage to society: that people come to believe that inefficiency and delay will drain even a just judgment of its value; that people who have long been exploited in the smaller transactions of daily life come to believe that courts cannot vindicate their legal rights from fraud and over-reaching; that people come to believe the law – in the larger sense – cannot fulfill its primary function to protect them and their families in their homes, at their work, and on the public streets."[3]

Anonymous, July 28, 2013 9:22 PM

Are you implying that in this situation justice for victims is not served by pursuing culprits after a certain amount of time has passed? If in fact this is not your point, then good. If it is, then: First, although a judge will occasionally throw out an old and cold case to protect a defendant, (i) there is no statute of limitations for murder, and (ii) in cases of Nazi culpability there is no shortage of evidence. That is, these cases have hardly gone cold. Secondly, it’s safe to say that rare is the Holocaust victim who lived or lives who would say "Lozin gein... let it go,” or “It’s too late.” Justice is still sought. Thirdly, the circumstances here are so far removed from the "norm" of crime - from the magnitude, to the perpetrators’ lack of remorse, to the extent of aided and abetted escapes, to the theretofore unmatched horror, to the myriad details that defy all that is human - that a comparison to the American vision of crime and punishment is inadequate, no matter how brilliant the underpinning philosophy or its philosophers. Finally, your quoting Pirkei Avos’ “The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied..." is disingenuous. Jews like Zuroff (and the deceased Weisenthal) have worked tirelessly, wasting no time in trying to bring the murderers to justice in the face of apathy and deceit.

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