How many Nazi war criminals are still at large?

Answers to your questions about the news.
May 12 2011 6:44 PM

Geriatric and Genocidal

How many Nazi war criminals are still at large?

John Demjanjuk. Click to expand image.
John Demjanjuk

A German court has convicted John Demjanjuk of participating in the murder of more than 28,000 Jews at World War II death camps. The 91-year-old, who for years fought deportation from the United States, faces five years in prison. Now that Demjanjuk has been sentenced, how many Nazi war criminals are still at large?

Probably hundreds. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group based in Los Angeles, publishes an annual report on the investigation, indictment, extradition, denaturalization, and conviction of Nazi war criminals worldwide. In their last full report (PDF), released in November 2010 and covering the period ending March 31, 2010, they noted that there were 852 ongoing investigations of accused Nazis. While that's probably the best number available, it's a very rough estimate. Some of the investigations involve multiple suspects, although the reporting governments won't say which or how many. Several countries declined to respond to the center's request for information, while others refuse to investigate World War II-era crimes as a matter of policy. (For example, the statute of limitations applies to murder—and even, until recently, to genocide—in Sweden and Norway, precluding any punishment for Nazi war criminals.) That means there are an unknown number of former Nazi executioners living anonymously around the world.

Advertisement

On the other hand, there are probably some innocents under investigation. Prosecutors have opened 2,718 investigations globally since the beginning of 2001, but have only achieved 87 convictions. While some of the remaining 2,631 cases are ongoing and many suspects have died, prosecutors have also dropped a large number for lack of evidence.

Even among those countries that are officially willing to investigate Nazi war crimes, some are more serious about it than others. Poland leads the world in open cases with 316, and Germany has 177. (Many of these are quite new. Between April 1, 2009 and March 21, 2010, German prosecutors opened 130 new cases.) Meanwhile, Austria—Germany's neighbor to the south and most likely the home of a fair number of former Nazi genocide practitioners—has just 28 investigations ongoing. The country hasn't convicted a Nazi war criminal for more than 30 years. Austria did, however, establish a commission recently to investigate Nazi war crimes allegations.

As for the United States: There were 87 open investigations as of April 2010. And one of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's most wanted war criminals, a Michigan man named Ivan (John) Kalymon, has been stripped of his citizenship and awaits deportation.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and author of Operation Last Chance: One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Why Time Is on Our Side in the Fight Against Ebola

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Catacombs Where You Can Stroll Down Hallways Lined With Corpses

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
Crime
Oct. 1 2014 4:15 PM The Trials of White Boy Rick A Detroit crime legend, the FBI, and the ugliness of the war on drugs.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 1 2014 4:55 PM Blood Before Bud? Must a gentleman’s brother always be the best man at his wedding?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 4:46 PM Ebola Is No Measles. That’s a Good Thing. Comparing this virus to scourges of the past gives us hope that we can slow it down.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?