viernes, 23 de septiembre de 2016

Why Germany still pursues justice for victims of Nazis

Hubert Zafke, a former medic with the SS at Auschwitz-Birkenau, has had his trial put on hold for the fifth time. What's behind a fresh pursuit of justice for victims of the Holocaust?

In 1944, Hubert Zafke was a medical orderly at the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. This year, at the age of 95, he was supposed to stand trial for his actions during his time with the SS.
A German court announced Monday that his trial would be suspended for health reasons, the fifth such postponement since Mr. Zafke was brought in front of a judge for a first hearing in February.
The multiple postponements highlight the difficulties of putting former Nazis on trial almost 70 years after the fall of the Third Reich. In spite of the difficulties, German courts have seen a spike in prosecution attempts in the past several years. That uptick reflects a relatively recent shift in the legal framework applied in a decades-old pursuit of justice for some six million Jews killed during the Holocaust.
Zafke is charged with 3,681 counts of accessory to murder, according to The Guardian. Prosecutors allege that his unit worked near the gas chambers that killed hundreds of thousands of Jews and others at Auschwitz-Birkenau. They also claim that by providing medical assistance to SS guards, the medical staff, including Zafke, was culpable in helping the operation of the camp.
For many observers, Zafke, a single medic, represents a mere cog in the Nazi genocide machine. For much of the 20th century, following the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals in 1945 and the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, prosecutors of Nazi war criminals focused on proving a direct involvement in the atrocities committed at the various camps. For decades, guards like Zafke were allowed to remain free because of a lack of proof linking them to specific murders.
"In order to be found guilty of criminal complicity [in the Holocaust], the prosecution had the burden of proving specific involvement in acts of criminal violence against known, named individuals, and that's a very high standard," Ken Ledford, a professor of history and law at Case Western Reserve University, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "It's just very difficult to have that evidence, either in the eyewitness testimony or in documentary evidence."
All that changed with the case of John Demjanjuk, in 2011, a former SS guard who worked at the Sobibór extermination camp in Poland. For the first time, a new generation of prosecutors argued that a guard's involvement at the camp was enough to convict him, despite the lack of evidence linking him to a specific murder. In 2011, the court agreed, ushering in a new wave of prosecution of former Nazis, after such cases had largely dried up in the preceding decades.
"At a place that existed solely for the purpose of murdering people, anyone who was involved in carrying out that process was an accessory to the murder that was happening there," Elizabeth White, a historian at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum who helped the US Department of Justice investigate Demjanjuk under immigration law, told the Monitor in February. 
There are not many such criminals left. Those that are, such Zafke, are old and often ill, and some question whether it is even worth the effort after so many decades, arguing that there's nothing that such low-ranking guards could have realistically done to resist becoming caught up in the Nazi system.
"People have said 'Well, these guys who were still alive were really young. They were just small fry,'" said Dr. White in February. "But to the people, they helped kill, they were not small fry. They were not insignificant." Klaus Kabisch, the judge in Zafke's case, has faced allegations of bias for seeming reluctant to have Zafke stand trial, with prosecutors submitting a motion for him to recuse himself. A higher court overruled an earlier ruling against bringing the case to trial, because of concerns over Zafke's health, according to Agence France-Presse.
"The co-plaintiffs have abandoned all hope that a trial that is anything other than a farce will actually start one day under this presiding judge," plaintiff lawyers Thomas Walther and Cornelius Nestler said in a statement last week.
Dr. Ledford explains that, in spite of the angry remarks by the prosecution, repeated delays like this in the German legal system are not unusual, and recusals like the one called for by the prosecution only happen under extraordinary circumstances. Postponements due to health are common when prosecuting someone as old as Zafke, a major obstacle towards putting former Nazis on trial.
The Zafke trial comes after the three most recent trials of former SS members all resulted in convictions. In addition to Demjanjuk's conviction, Oskar Groening was sentenced to four years in prison, and Reinhold Hanning was sentenced to five; both men were stationed at Auschwitz.
While the sentences may seem short, the German legal system takes into account the condition of those who are sentenced. Since both men are in their 90s and not expected to live much longer, the sentences are considered harsh by German standards, according to Dr. Ledford.
But for many Germans, the conviction of former SS guards is not just about punishing the men responsible, but about educating younger generations about the atrocities committed in the past before the last members of that generation die out.
"Given Germany's crimes of the Holocaust in the Second World War, Germany has an obligation to itself, and to the world, to constantly remain vigilant," says Ledford.
"I think the victims deserve it," he adds.
Learn more about Nazism and Holocaust by reading "The Nazis and Evil", published in 4 languages.
5 Stars Reviews eBook on Barnes and Noble and Bestseller on Kobo
Get it on:
Barnes and Noble


viernes, 2 de septiembre de 2016

The last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor has one ultimate dream

Ben Ferencz pops a cough drop into his mouth, "to loosen my ancient throat." Where to begin his improbable story?
"I was born in a small village in Transylvania in the Carpathian Mountains," he says, sitting in the living room of his modest retirement home. "It was a small house with a thatched roof, no running water, no electricity," and, he jokes, "not even a television."
Ferencz is 96. His memory astonishes, plucking dates and names from more than half a century past. He's a tiny man, barely brushing five feet, but a legal giant: the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials and a champion of international criminal law who is about to donate millions to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to promote world peace.
His Nuremberg case, which the Associated Press called "the biggest murder trial in history," defines him. It involved the Einsatzgruppen, roving extermination squads responsible for more than a million deaths during World War II. Ferencz convinced his fellow attorneys at the postwar tribunals that the Nazi officers who led the squads had to be put on trial. Fine, they said. Ben, you serve as chief prosecutor.
Ferencz was 27.
It was his first trial.
He presented precisely one witness, who certified Nazi documents that recorded the slaughter of Jews, gypsies and other civilians with a banker's efficiency.
"They were so sure they were going to win! The Germans were great at documentation, thank you very much," Ferencz says, clapping his hands.
"Death was their tool and life their toy," he told the judge in the Palace of Justice's quiet, wood-paneled courtroom. "If these men are immune, then the law has lost its meaning, and man must live in fear."
The prosecution rested after two days. All 22 defendants were found guilty.
Was he nervous? "I'm not the type," he says. "Fearless Ferencz!" Afterward, though, "my head was bursting. I never had such a headache in my life. It was high tension." Ferencz had to lie down and skip the party he threw for his staff.
The courtroom's size limited the number of defendants the prosecutors could try. "There were hundreds of people responsible," he says. "How many were put on trial? Practically none."
After the trials, Ferencz fought for restitution for thousands of World War II victims and argued for the creation of the International Criminal Court, which entered into force in 2002, headquartered in The Hague.
"My hope is that people will not be content to look at the past and say never again, and then do nothing," he says. "So I am taking the measures for preventing it from ever happening again."
That's the purpose of his $1 million donations to the Holocaust Museum for the Ferencz International Justice Initiative. The annual gift is renewable for up to $10 million.
Where did he get the money? He saved what he earned from his salary and cases unrelated to war victims. And he appears to have saved almost every dollar.
His retirement community in Delray Beach, Florida, a place he does not care for, resembles a 1970s military barracks capped with glazed pink Spanish tile roofs. His home, which he purchased 40 years ago for less than $23,000, is decorated with budget furniture that offers little comfort. Personal flourishes are few. It looks like he moved in yesterday.
"Law not war, that's my motto. Simple. Three words," he says. "It causes me pain to see the world as it is. But not to do anything, not to try, that would be wrong."
As a private who rose to the rank of sergeant in Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army, Ferencz was present at or arrived days after, the liberation of several concentration camps: Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Flossenburg, Ebensee.
"The story is basically the same for every camp," he says. "Inmates being worked to death at every camp. Conditions absolutely horrible and indescribable, unforgettable. Guards fleeing."
Ferencz has shared his stories for seven decades. "I saw the inmates beat up a guy they captured and burn him alive," Ferencz says of a German guard. "Slowly. I saw it."
He stops. His eyes pool with tears, and a linen handkerchief emerges from his pinstriped pocket.
"Excuse me," he says, "but I still see it. Could I have probably stopped it? No. Did I try? No. Should I have tried? No. You try being there."
Ferencz spends his days in a narrow office overlooking a man-made lagoon and a flock of white ibises. At his desk, crafted from a slab of plywood supported by filing cabinets, he curses the computer for failing to obey his commands. "It must be an anti-Semite," he says.
A New Yorker most of his life, Ferencz has another home in New Rochelle, where he raised four children. He has lived long enough to see them retire.
Ferencz is here, in the punishing late summer heat and humidity, only because of Gertrude, his wife of 70 years, is in failing health and prefers Florida. Her problem? "She's old!"
He lived simply, invested wisely and sat on those investments for decades. "I don't gamble. I like plain food," he says, pulling at his navy suspenders. "I like simple things." The slippers he's wearing, purchased for $5, are his fancy pair. A copy of the Kama Sutra winks from a bookshelf thick with tomes on international criminal law. He's a bit of a flirt. His indulgence is talk. For four hours he talks.
"I came into the world a poor boy. I want to go out of this world a poor boy," he says. "My resolve is to give it all back in gratitude for the opportunity I've had in the United States. I have been trying to my life, ever since I can remember, to try and create a more peaceful and humane world. And I want the money to go for that purpose. I realize it will not happen in my lifetime because I'm trying to reverse thousands of years of tradition and glorification of war."
"The recipient of Ferencz's largesse is the Holocaust Museum's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. "We're planning to make sure the fight he has waged his whole life continues after he is gone. Ben has seen absolutely the worst of humanity," says Cameron Hudson, director of the center. "He's seen it up close, and to have this kind of faith in humanity, that we can overcome our most base impulses, is amazing."
Ferencz has lived to see many more atrocities - Rwanda, Sudan, Syria. Still, he believes "we can reverse the glorification of war. We can change hearts and minds, and hold individuals accountable."
He remains frustrated that despots and terrorists are killed instead of tried in criminal courts to deter further aggression. He would have brought Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden to trial in international court.
But he is also optimistic about civilization's advances. "I have also lived through unbelievable change, that a woman is running for president, or that a man can marry a man - enormous, inconceivable transformations in my lifetime," he says.
This is how Ferencz speaks, alternating between speeches about global peace and what he calls "Benny stories," tales worthy of Sholem Aleichem if Aleichem had been raised in a Hell's Kitchen cellar and gone to Harvard Law.
The family moved to the United States when Ben was 10 months old. Ferencz's father was a janitor who graduated to house painting. His parents were in an arranged family marriage - they were cousins - and later divorced. Crime was the neighborhood's chief industry. An uncle told him, "You'll either be a good lawyer or a good crook." Ferencz attended City College, where bright immigrants went free in the 1930s. "I didn't know any lawyers. I wanted to go to the best school," he says.
Someone mentioned Harvard. OK, Ferencz said, Harvard, it is.
He wanted the best as insurance and protection, he says, to command respect. "Because I was very short. I was very small. Five-foot-two at the height of my height," he says. "It kept me out of the Air Force. I wanted to be a pilot. I couldn't reach the pedals. But, by chance, I had a very good education."
Harvard, where he began his lifelong study of war crimes, got him to Nuremberg, but not before he served as a grunt in Patton's army.
He enlisted. "In their typical brilliance, being a Harvard Law School graduate and an expert on war crimes, they assigned me to clean the latrines in the artillery and do every other filthy thing they could give me," he says. "Why? Because I was a Harvard man. I was never high and mighty. They didn't care. They were a bunch of idiots."
His low rank had its privileges. On bathtub duty, he claims, he saw Marlene Dietrich naked. As a member of Patton's forces, he was at Normandy, broke though the Maginot and Siegfried lines, crossed the Rhine at Remagen, and took part in the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne.
He was awarded five battle stars, though not, he argues, for bravery. "I was hiding under whatever truck or tank I could get under," he says. "My weapon was a typewriter."
After his return to the States and Gertrude, Ferencz was recruited for Nuremberg. Telford Taylor, his eventual boss, noted that his Army files indicated that he was occasionally insubordinate.
"That's not correct, sir. I am not occasionally insubordinate," Ferencz told his future law partner. "I am usually insubordinate. I don't take orders that I know are stupid or illegal."
After Nuremberg, Ferencz worked for years seeking restitution for individuals and organizations. "I was known as a lawyer who takes hopeless but morally well-founded cases on a contingency basis," he says. He wrote books on international law. The Vietnam War disgusted him - "crazy and should be illegal," he says. He quit his law practice to dedicate himself to peace.
"It's possible to take the most fundamental, strongly held ideas and change them. What makes people change? Sometimes fear, sometimes reason, sometimes sentiment," he says. "You have to teach people to be more tolerant, to be more compassionate, to compromise. It takes courage. Crimes are committed by individuals, not movements, and you have to hold the people responsible in courts."
Ferencz has lived long enough to participate in the first case before the International Criminal Court. At age 91, he gave a closing statement in the prosecution of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in Uganda. But he is far from satisfied and has railed at senators and former Cabinet members, urging more aggressive prosecution of war criminals.
Ferencz has been awarded a trove of medals, including the French Legion of Honor, Germany's military medal of honor and Holland's Erasmus Prize. He doesn't want to see the Holocaust Museum "just be a historical archive. It has to do something, to build on the suffering to avoid any in the future." In pursuit of peace and more teaching of international criminal law, he is working with Harvard and Cardozo law schools.
Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the Einsatzgruppen trial at Nuremberg. The last remaining prosecutor could be excused for watching a baseball game or two, or reading a mystery.
Ferencz does none of that. He performs 100 push-ups each morning, swims in his retirement community pool, cares for Gertrude at night. Otherwise, he works at his makeshift desk, cursing the computer.
Fun? Ferencz has no time for fun.

jueves, 1 de septiembre de 2016

Failed Jewish Holocaust survivor plot to kill Nazis still a mystery after 70 years

Joseph Harmatz at his apartment in Tel Aviv,
Israel, on 23 May 2016. Photograph: Tsafrir Abayov/AP
Neither Jewish ‘Avenger’ Joseph Harmatz nor a recently declassified US military report can explain why Nuremberg poison operation caused no known deaths

Seventy years after the most daring attempt of Jewish Holocaust survivors to seek revenge, the leader of the plot has only one simple regret – that to his knowledge he didn’t actually kill any Nazis.
Joseph Harmatz is one of the few remaining Jewish “Avengers” who carried out a mass poisoning of former SS men in an American-run prisoner-of-war camp in 1946 that sickened more than 2,200 Germans but ultimately caused no known deaths. A recently declassified US military report obtained by the Associated Press has only added to the mystery of why the brazen operation did not kill Nazis because it shows the amount of arsenic used should have been fatal to tens of thousands.
Still, the 91-year-old Harmatz says the message echoed into a rallying cry for the new state of Israel, established in 1948 – that the days when attacks on Jews went unanswered were over.
“We didn’t want to come back [to Palestine] without having done something, and that is why we were keen,” Harmatz said in a hoarse, whispery voice from his apartment in north Tel Aviv. He lost most of his family in the Holocaust.
Despite a visceral desire for vengeance after the second world war, most Holocaust survivors were too weary or devastated to seriously consider it. But a group of some 50, most young men and women who had already fought in the resistance could not let the crimes go unpunished. While there were some isolated acts of Jews harming individual Nazis after the war, the group, codenamed Nakam, Hebrew for vengeance, sought a more comprehensive form of punishment.

The mission was simple.
“Kill Germans,” Harmatz said flatly.
How many?
“As many as possible,” he quickly replied.
The first idea described by Harmatz was initiated by the resistance fighter and poet Abba Kovner: to poison the water supply of Nuremberg. But there were deep reservations even among the Avengers that such an operation would bring mass death to innocent Germans and undermine international support for the eventual creation of the state of Israel. Either way, when Kovner sailed for Europe with the poison, he drew suspicion from British authorities and was forced to toss it overboard.
So attention shifted toward Plan B, a more limited operation that specifically targeted the worst Nazi perpetrators.

Undercover members of the group found work at a bakery that supplied the Stalag 13 POW camp at Langwasser, near Nuremberg. On 13 April 1946, using poison procured from one of Kovner’s associates, three members spent two hours coating some 3,000 loaves of bread with arsenic. The goal was to kill 12,000 SS personnel, and Harmatz oversaw the operation from outside the bakery.
“The terrible tragedy was about to be forgotten, and if you don’t punish for one crime, you will get another,” explained Dina Porat, the chief historian at Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial, who is about to publish a book on the Avengers. “This is what was driving them, not only justice but a warning, a warning to the world that you cannot hurt Jews in such a manner and get away with it.”
Under German regulations, authorities in Nuremberg later investigated Harmatz and Leipke Distal, who worked undercover in the bakery for months, after they revealed details of the operation in a 1999 television documentary. The prosecutors eventually concluded that even though there was an attempted murder they would not file charges because of the “extraordinary circumstances”.
According to previously classified files from the US military’s counter-intelligence corps, the amount of arsenic used should have been enough to cause a massive number of deaths. The files were obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Archives.
In one memo from 1947 stamped “confidential”, investigators write that at the bakery they found “three empty hot water bottles and a burlap bag containing four full hot water bottles”. An analysis of the contents “revealed that they contained enough arsenic mixed with glue and water to kill approximately 60,000 persons”.
Another confidential report said a chemist called in to help in the investigation had determined “10 kilo of pure arsenic was present, mixed with water and glue for adhesive purposes”.
Laboratory investigators found arsenic on the bottom, top and sides of the bread, and reported that doctors said the SS men exhibited symptoms “similar to cholera and included vomiting, diarrhea and skin rashes”. The report added that the most amount of arsenic found on a loaf was 0.2 grams – which fell well within the range of 0.1-0.3 grams that would be “in most cases lethal”.
To this day, it remains a mystery as to why the poison failed to kill Nazis. The prevailing theory is that the plotters in their haste spread the poison too thinly. Another is that the Nazi prisoners immediately sensed something was off with the bread and therefore no one ingested enough of it to die.
After the attack, Harmatz, Distal and others had to flee quickly. At the border of Czechoslovakia, they were met by Yehuda Maimon, an Auschwitz survivor from Poland who lost his parents in the camps. He smuggled the group out safely, and they ended up in Palestine.
From a retirement home outside Tel Aviv, the 92-year-old Maimon looks back with satisfaction at carrying out his “duty” for revenge.
“It was imperative to form this group. If I am proud of something it is that I belonged to this group,” he said. “Heaven forbid if after the war we had just gone back to the routine without thinking about paying those bastards back. It would have been awful not to respond to those animals.”

The Angel of Death's tortured Auschwitz victims: Body parts and BRAINS from Nazi doctor Josef Mengele's sick experiments are discovered in a Munich research lab

  • Remains were found during renovations at a Psychiatric Institute last year

  • In wartime, the unit received body parts from Nazi doctor Josef Mengele

  • He was dubbed the 'Angel of Death' for carrying out horrific experiments

  • Research committee has already started to identify some of the victims

  • Body parts and brains of victims of horrific experiments by Nazi doctors - including the infamous 'Angel of Death' Josef Mengele of Auschwitz - have been found at a leading German research institute.

    The gruesome remains were discovered in jars during renovations at the Max Planck Psychiatric Institute in Munich last year but reported on by Israeli media only this week.
    In the wake of the discovery a committee has been established in order to ascertain just how the victims came to die.

    It is known that in wartime the institute regularly received human body parts from Josef Mengele, the doctor at the Nazi death camp in occupied Poland where he became infamous for carrying out horrific experiments without anaesthetic.

    The Max Planck Institute claims the samples were once used by the Nazi brain researcher Julius Hallervorden, who conducted experiments on humans during and after the rule of the Nazis.

    He even served as the head of the neuropathology department at the institute, then known as the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, in 1938.

    The research committee has already started to identify some of the victims from whom the samples were taken with the goal of eventually interring them in a mass grave.

    The institute published on its website: 'We are embarrassed by these findings, and the blemish of their discovery in the archives. 

    'We will update the public with any further information that comes to light with complete transparency.'

    Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, Israel, had not been aware of the existence of the samples.

    Professor Dan Machman, director of the International Centre for Holocaust Research at the museum, told an Israeli radio station: 'It's surprising, although not completely. We know that experiments were conducted and that not everything was erased and buried. 

  • Two years ago, bones of victims on whom experiments were conducted were found in Berlin in the trash. Next year, we're going to organise a convention about this issue.

    'This current finding is something new that was previously unknown, and joins other events that are suddenly uncovered after 70 years.'

    'Whoever thought this chapter was completely finished is mistaken. It's hard to know if these samples are exclusively from "mercy killings" - the Nazi jargon for the murder of sick people for the purposes of experimentation - or if they also derive from other sources.' 

    From 1940 to 1945, hundreds of brains from victims of the mass murder of psychiatric patients and the mentally deficient at that time were examined scientifically at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research (KWI) in Berlin.

    'Researchers at the KWI for Brain Research like Julius Hallervorden (1882 -1965), who worked at the KWI from 1938, made themselves complicit in the organised murder of patients in an unbelievable manner,' said the institute.

    'The investigation mandated now should reveal more about the possible victims as well as scientific evaluations which have been performed. 

    'In addition, the brain sections dating from the Nazi era should be buried. It has yet to be decided where the sections which arose after 1945 will remain.' 

    Victims of Josef Mengele recall the horrors at Auschwitz. Video

    Learn more about the Nazi Medicine by reading "The Nazis and Evil", published in 3 languages.
    5 Stars Reviews eBook on Barnes and Noble and Bestseller on Kobo
    Get it on:
    Barnes and Noble