Sixty-eight years after the conclusion of World War II, Germany is set to investigate 50 alleged former Auschwitz guards.
According to German reports over the weekend, the former guards, who would be in their 90s, could be charged with accessory to murder. The investigation will be headed by the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart.
Chief prosecutor Kurt Schrimm told Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung that authorities were in possession of the names and locations of the suspects. He said some of the suspects may have been aided by the Catholic Church in escaping to South America.
The investigation was made possible by the precedent set in the trial of John Demjanjuk, who was convicted in 2011 of being an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews while on duty as a prison guard in the Sobibór death camp in Poland.
Demjanjuk was convicted due to his capacity as a guard at the facility, despite the fact that there were no witnesses to tie him directly to any wrongdoing.
“From now on, any activity in a concentration camp is enough to stand trial for complicity in murder,” Schrimm was quoted as saying
The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk steadfastly maintained that he had been mistaken for someone else — first wounded as a Soviet soldier fighting German forces, then captured and held as a prisoner of war under brutal conditions.
After his conviction, Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison, but was appealing the case to Germany’s high court. He was released pending the appeal, and died a free man in his own room in a nursing home in the southern Bavarian town of Bad Feilnbach in March 2012.
Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff said the new investigation was an “interesting development” and noted that “even if there won’t be any convictions, at least it’ll ruin these criminals’ final years.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.