The Detroit Free Press is running a story today about three Michigan senior citizens (aged 81-86), all of whom are accused by the U.S. Justice Department of being Nazi guards (or of assisting the Nazis). The debate now is what to do with these men. The DOJ’s Office of Special Investigations wants to deport them. Indeed, the OSI has 6 people it is waiting to deport, if it could find somewhere to send them. But their European birth countries are reluctant (or embarrassed) to accept them (which would require them to care for them, too).
But beyond the details of these specific cases, there is a bigger question alluded to by the article: Does it make sense to attempt to prosecute or punish former Nazis some 60 years after the fact? Is there any value in going after these older men, many of whom are in poor health and probably won’t live much longer anyway? Stripping former Nazis of their citizenship so as to be able to deport them is not going to change the atrocities that occurred in the 40s, so why spend the time and resources targeting feeble seniors?
The story does not attempt to answer this question, it merely shares the points of view. But I do have an answer, and my answer is simple and unequivocal: “absolutley, it is right, and even vital, to pursue each and every one of these individuals”.
And here’s why:
These men are “wonderful neighbours”, they’ve helped shovel snow, have held real jobs, and have been productive members of society. But that is neither here nor there. They all stand accused of taking part in one of the most horrific atrocities ever wrought by man, the systematic annihilation of 6,000,000 Jews and millions of other “inferiors” and “undesirables” (including Poles, Serbs, Blacks, Communists, Freemasons, gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, and others).
But that is not why I want them brought to justice.
These men, and others in similar situations, claim that they had no choice but to take part in the Holocaust. Whether they were willing participants or blameless pawns has been debated for decades, and is not overly relevant. If you kill, if you torture, if you abuse, well, then you bear blame. And these men bear blame.
But that is not why I want them identified and prosecuted.
These men also lied on the citizenship applications. I became a US citizen in 2000, I had to fill in all sorts of forms and take tests and more. I also had to make a signed statement affirming that the application was truthful, with an understanding that if I lied on my application then my citizenship could be rescinded. These men lied on their citizenship applications, and for that reason alone do not deserve the rights and privileges that U.S. citizenship bestows upon them.
But that is not why I want them deported.
Why do I want their stories told? Why do I approve of the work of the DOJ OSI? Why do I support the efforts of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum? Why, after all this time, is the Holocaust still relevant?
Simple, because the Holocaust is more then a ugly period of human history, and more than a personal story that claimed members of my own family. The Holocaust is also a reminder of the deplorable acts that human beings are capable of, a warning that savage brutality can (and still does) happen again.
Be in the current genocide crisis in Darfur, ethnic cleansing programs against Croats and Muslims in Bosnia in the 80s, the Sri Lankan massacres of Tamils in the early 80s, the 1994 systematic slaughter of 800,000 in Rwanda, the police abuse of Albanians in Macedonia in 2000 … these horrific events occurred, and still do occur, long after the dark European 40s.
And yet, in these sound-byte based out-of-sight-out-of-mind times, such events seems surreal, almost irrelevant. There lacks a personal association, a face, a way to relate to occurrences of such magnitude. And this is where stories like the one in today’s Free Press can help.
There is nothing anyone can do to undo the Holocaust. But finding, charging, and deporting former Nazis, even aging decrepit Nazis, is vital so as to ensure that history is more than just history. These old men can’t change history, but their stories and faces can keep that history alive and relevant. We can’t bring back the victims of the Holocaust, but we can, and must, make sure that such atrocities never occur again.

7 thoughts

  1. Well stated Ben. I’m quite sure you’ve heard the stories, but in case you haven’t you may want to read about John Demjanjuk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Demjanjuk) – he was accused of being ‘Ivan the Terrible’ and eventually deported. Be prepared, however. This was a very long process. I can recall hearing about this locally for many years before he was finally deported. These gentlemen in Michigan will likely be dead before they are brought to justice.

  2. I’ve been to the Auschwitz death camp, and the Gross Rosen work camp – I don’t see how this is anything other than a cut-and-dry answer. Deport them. If the european countries don’t want them, leave them on the Bucharest/Budapest/Berlin tarmac.
    The only problem I have is that the DOJ is trying to deport them on a technicality – they lied on their visa applications. These people will most likely never see justice, but they certainly should not see out the rest of their lives in the comfort of their own homes.
    David

  3. I too couldn’t agree more, but there is a possibility that "an eye for an eye makes the whole world ho blind", so maybe its better that they get deported because of their visa issue.

  4. Alexander, I think you’re right, in saying that an "eye for an eye….", violence begets violence, necessary evil is still evil, etc. If we were talking about an "eye for an eye", we would put them in standing rooms, work them to death, give them food designed to kill them after a few weeks, deprive them of any human dignity, and make them watch their families suffer the same fate.
    I think deportation is an appropriate response.
    David

  5. I’m not sure on this one, Ben… I’d focus first on stopping those who are killing others today… this stuff doesn’t even make it into the mainstream commercial news syndicators, look at the papers actually covering the following stories, for instance:
    http://news.google.com/news?q=christians+killed
    http://news.google.com/news?q=teachers+killed
    http://news.google.com/news?q=%22death+to+israel%22
    If bringing some old guy to justice would actually stop the current hatecrimes then I could see it, but I’m more concerned about getting past the current doublethink, to stop the current violence…?
    jd

  6. John,
    We think we’re a country (and world for that matter) with the resources to do both. I’d hate to think the the level of national exposure to a news story would dictate the decision to prosecute evil.
    If we drop the case against men, what message would that send to the current perpetrators or crimes against humanity? If you ride it out for long enough, we’ll forget about you? How long is long enough? Should we forget about those that engaged in ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia? What good does prosecuting those people do in stopping genocide in Darfur, for example?
    Let’s not forget what this is about – this is not "some old guy" – these were Nazi’s. As I said in previous posts, I think they are getting off much easier than their victims.
    David

  7. I don’t think punishing the men really accomplishes much but I do believe they should be brought to justices and exposed for what they did.
    It does bother me that we focus so much attention on the "small fish". Hitler was supported by American Capitalists because they viewed him as "anti-communist". Henry Kissinger is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people and Bush is trying to become Hitler-esque with the wholesale slaughter of almost a million Iraqi citizens who posed absolutely no threat to our country.
    My point is, let’s start with the big fish who perpetrate horrors against humanity.

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