Is it really worth hunting down surviving Nazis?

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So I saw this on the bbc:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23428997

Once upon a time I applauded the actions of 'nazi hunters', however after years of learning about the history of the era, international interactions, noting the apparent absence of reprisals for Stalin's similar programs and various other experiences; most notably going through the papers and recreations of the Milgram Experiment (where 65% of 'normal' people typically delivered 'lethal' electic shocks on command from an authority figure, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment) I have felt increasingly hostile to the behavior of hunting down former rank and file 'Nazis' many of whom were little more than adolescents and lowly grunts or POWs ushered into duty (John Demjanjuk for example) as opposed to architects of the third Reich's less than 'tasteful' policies.

To summarize I feel that many of the now elderly near death men being hunted and put on trial for crimes against humanity were little more than very normal people swept up in the horrors of their time. I am not in anyway saying the actions of these men were justified, but rather the inquisition like manner in which non-officers, conscripts the like have been hunted down for their actions is not fair considering their were simply following the orders of the truly guilty parties higher up the chain of command.

I am a terrible person for thinking this? Granted I believe the architects of such atrocities and similar events should suffer just punishment, but to go after those on the ground following orders seems wrong? Or am I just a misguided bleeding heart in this regard?

I think what bothers me is not so much the thought of putting elderly people on trial. I think it would be perfectly fair to say that merely following orders does not remove culpability for your actions and much as you're right about Milgram, I find that part of me does like the idea of Robert Jackson's "poisoned chalice". I don't necessarily have a problem with harsh punishment for Nazi war criminals, provided that when we do so we also accept a willingness to hold ourselves to the same standard.

I think what bothers me, as you say, is the inconsistency with which these laws are applied, and the degree to which the poisoned chalice has been selectively watered down when it comes to other instances of war crimes.

I think the whole punishment is beyond reason now. It's been nearly 70 years, let it be. Most of them were just following orders and forced into hiding. I think it's just unfair to be hunting the remaining "Nazis" when we still let the Gulag masters free and so on.

BlumiereBleck:
I think the whole punishment is beyond reason now. It's been nearly 70 years, let it be. Most of them were just following orders and forced into hiding. I think it's just unfair to be hunting the remaining "Nazis" when we still let the Gulag masters free and so on.

Yeah, and North Korea and China continue with their human rights abuses. And Putin is propping up several more just like them.

Hmm, I seem to remember Nazi hunting being no longer a big thing anymore, since most of the major Nazis are dead. I remember just a few years ago one of the last major targets was found dead in Brazil.

I have nothing against Nazi hunting...if Holocaust survivors (IIRC most Nazi hunters are/were Holocaust survivors) want to find the last major offenders, by all means they should do so. However, it was my understanding that the rank-and-file Nazis were given a sort of blanket pardon after the war so that Germany could be rapidly reconstructed in the wake of the new Soviet threat (also to avoid another Versailles situation), so I'm a bit surprised they're going for average prison guards.

yep hunt them down, also the japanese scientists involved in human experimentation, as well as the american officials that gave them immunity after the war in exchange for their knowledge, for instance.

id be quite happy with an independent body being set up that was funded to hunt down people from every country regardless of their pull at the UN.

as for them "just following orders" well there are documented cases of members of the SS refusing to follow orders when it came to massacres and nothing happened apart from transfering them to other units. no german officials wants a trail and documents saying what was the order they refused and who ordered it in official records

Personally, I've always had a bit of respect for the "only following orders" defense. Didn't work at Nuremberg, but few people were actually charged there.

Flawed and obviously only possible because there aren't any vested interests in having a different outcome as it might be, I think it's laudable to actually uphold the standards of international law for once.

It bothers me that it's possible to prosecute using the 'guilt-by-association' principle - i.e. they were a prison guard at Auschwitz, therefore they must have committed war crimes. Although helping at concentration camps is obviously bad I wouldn't have called it murder unless the individual had a direct role, which is not what the courts seem to say...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26282592

We should still prosecute those who were actively involved in murder & "experimentation". I just don't see the value in going after someone on the basis that they worked at the camp - obviously is there evidence beyond that, then we should press ahead.

Esotera:
It bothers me that it's possible to prosecute using the 'guilt-by-association' principle - i.e. they were a prison guard at Auschwitz, therefore they must have committed war crimes. Although helping at concentration camps is obviously bad I wouldn't have called it murder unless the individual had a direct role, which is not what the courts seem to say...

I don't think that was the principle. The accusation is being an accessory to murder, that is enabling, supporting or securing the deed. Arguably, without guards, the crimes would have been impossible, so the guards did "enable" the murder.

As to whether or not it's worth it, that probably depends on what you are looking at. From a theoretical perspective, if you assume that punishment is retributive, then prosecution is necessary. Whether it's worth the resources spent for the prosecution vis a vis other crimes is debatable.

I think it's worth it to the people who were genuinely affected by that particular generation of war criminals.

However, for the rest of us to pursue Nazis while not paying at least as much due diligence to the current purveyors of extreme suffering in the world... is worse than hypocritical; it's a sad attempt to make ourselves feel better because they're a largely easy target. It's much harder to demand that, say, the North Korean establishment be made to pay for their abuses, as they can still fight back.

Then there's the aspect that nobody's hands are completely clean. But that was always true; we're only now beginning to understand this.

I think the hunt for ex-nazi war criminals is quite petty. The way i see it justice serves three purposes: protecting society (by locking up people who may harm society when free), rehabilitation and deterrence. Now let's see, how is locking up elderly people who haven't committed any crimes in decades going to protect society? Are we scared they are going to re-open concentration camps? And what rehabilitation? Most of them became productive members of society who have given up their harmful ideologies, so really there is no rehab left to do. And deterrence, is locking up elderly people who have done no wrong in so many years really going to scare neo-nazis? It seems that this hunt is purely revenge-fueled and that's really a petty reason to put people on trial.

wombat_of_war:
yep hunt them down, also the japanese scientists involved in human experimentation, as well as the american officials that gave them immunity after the war in exchange for their knowledge, for instance.

I'm doubtful any of those people are still alive, even if they were only 20 when the war ended they would be almost 90 now, and you'd expect the scientists and especially the American officials with enough power to make that decision to be much older than 20 at the time.

I can see the rationale behind hunting ex-Nazis in the 50's and 60's but by now it's seems like a waste of time, anyone left alive has been free for almost 70 years, realistically they've escaped any punishment we can give them, and in tandem with my point above anyone still alive now most likely wasn't old enough to be in any position of importance during the war. I say it's history now.

Imagine if every single group of nationality or ethnicity or whatever decided to 'hunt down' people that did crimes against it.

I'm not a Jew,but my country was invaded by Nazis too,and they killed lots of people. But do I want every single nazi soldier that murdered my people to be found today and put on jail ? Well I'm indifferent. I think it wouldn't change anything. There are in fact some ex-nazi soldiers that visit my country each year,to visit the cemetery were most of the bodies of dead German nazi soldiers were buried after the war. These visitors might have killed some of my people back then. But nobody arrests them or harass them when they come to visit their dead. I remember watching a show with some of the Nazi soldiers who did fought in my country being interviewed. They were like "That's what we were trained to do,what they told us to do,what we were forced to do,we didn't really had a choice" They shifted the blame to the German government of that time.
If the people who killed people back in the war were put in jail wouldn't tell me anything or make me feel justice.
If the German government decided to compensate for all the gold the Nazis stole during the war from the National Treasury though... That would be something to applaud.

JoJo:
I'm doubtful any of those people are still alive, even if they were only 20 when the war ended they would be almost 90 now, and you'd expect the scientists and especially the American officials with enough power to make that decision to be much older than 20 at the time.

About the officials, though, you are right that the ones in the 40s would be long dead, but there would be others who worked with the former nazis some years after that who could be looked into nowdays.

thaluikhain:

JoJo:
I'm doubtful any of those people are still alive, even if they were only 20 when the war ended they would be almost 90 now, and you'd expect the scientists and especially the American officials with enough power to make that decision to be much older than 20 at the time.

About the officials, though, you are right that the ones in the 40s would be long dead, but there would be others who worked with the former nazis some years after that who could be looked into nowdays.

Let me put this in perspective here:

By the time Reagan gave his speech at Point Du Hoc, the little boys who fought in the war were all aging grey hairs. In the 1980s. 34 years ago. And yes, these were barely boys because of of how low the age gate for the military back then.

Even the 15 year olds would be seniors by the 1980s. At 55.

They were old 40 years ago, full blown ancient history now. The only people who are older are the silent generation of the 1920s and there are barely any survivors. Their kids, the baby boomers, are already reaching the end of life expectancy.

Their kid's kids, the flower children, are seniors now too.

Hell, the "greatest generation" that was responsible for Reagan's election in the first place has been replaced by, what, 4 human generations? Possibly more.

Even the people who would work with the former nazis would be in a wheelchair in a retirement home by now. Even if they were 15 years old. 1950s-80s = about 60-30 years. Meaning that 15 year old would be well into his seniors regardless. Or very close.

The statute of limitations is kinda there for a reason. Wheeling out an old man on his death bed with a ventilator is wasted time. He is already so near death that no punishment would stick because he would die day one in jail. Everyone involved in that time are near death now, even the younger people that helped them.

No matter how you cut it, everyone is so old you might as well not even bother. They'd be dead in a few days anyway.

OT:

The only reason people harp on about this 7 decades after the fact is mostly because how America was "right" back then and how crappy America is now. The same whining going all the way back to Reagan's era. Even when the WWII era was full of eugenics (yes, eugenics was in America in the 30s-40s and some states sterilized people for it up the 60s), full of racism, sexism, and other views we would find abhorrent in the modern world. Not to mention the drastic food and oil rationing. Not to mention the fear of going to bed every night to wake up to an air raid or Japanese balloon bombs. You had a curfew to shut off all the lights at a specified time or bombers would drop a huge payload of death on your city, even a single light would tip them off.

Los Angeles got so spooked it raised the alarm and shot flak at NOTHING for 3-4 hours, until about 3 AM. Everyone in the entire city and its county lived in fear, in the pitch black curfew, that they would die that day for 4 hours. The bullets they shot up and back down and landed on everything from cars to homes. These were huge cannons with huge bullets that make a .50 cal blush.

It wasn't a good time to live anywhere in the 1940s, regardless of where you went.

America romanticized an old moral war 40 years after the fact because it couldn't handle the morally gray world of Reagan's era anymore. You did not want to live in the 1940s, because frankly our modern lifestyle and even our dreamlike depictions are far removed from the reality. It was a sadly depressed, deeply racist, deeply sexist, deeply religious, anti-semetic, and fearful time. It was a time of rationing and when money couldn't just buy everything because America was poor back then. America wasn't the open and liberal one we know today, and it sure as hell won't be a version of America you would agree with anymore unless you are hardcore conservative on the level of Sarah Palin and George Bush. And even then that is reaching because modern conservatism started 40 years later.

Basically, people still care 70 years after the fact and after 99.99% of them already died because of nostalgia by people who didn't even live in the time and were going off Ronald Reagan's fantasy view that he used during an election to get votes off people weary of the Cold War's moral ambiguity. That somehow everything was okay and hopeful in the 40s when in reality it wasn't. Something we still see 30 years later when people say "America got on the wrong track, lets go back to a simpler time when we fought hitler." That "simple time" didn't exist, and by comparison our modern time is as simple as it gets.

You learn a lot of things when you are forced to research this stuff for a huge final that also requires you talk about everything. Lets just say I won't look at WWII, the 1930s-40s, Reagan, or republicans the same way ever again. I doubt anyone could when you learn that the patriotism and fervor that people felt is what allowed politicians who never even been in the war do very bad things that also came back and bit us in the ass when the economy collapsed.

Oddly enough this was something I was thinking about last week. I'm with the majority of the thread on this one: at some point it's only fair to call a crime expired - or at least admit that dragging nonagenarians through the legal system is in nobody's benefit apart from the bitter and vengeful.

Ultratwinkie:
The statute of limitations is kinda there for a reason.

Certainly, yes, but it is not applied to all crimes. It does imply that if you fail to get justice done for a while, you should just give up. While, yes, you have failed, I can see why people would want to still try.

Ultratwinkie:

I think you've overlooked the effect of social reforms there. Back in the good old days, you didn't have to recognise minorities as equals, everyone was white and straight and Christian, or could be ignored/removed if they weren't. When people say they are nostalgic for the 50s, that's what I usually assume they are getting at, if not usually overtly, and I could easily extend that the the 40s as well.

thaluikhain:

Ultratwinkie:
The statute of limitations is kinda there for a reason.

Certainly, yes, but it is not applied to all crimes. It does imply that if you fail to get justice done for a while, you should just give up. While, yes, you have failed, I can see why people would want to still try.

Ultratwinkie:

I think you've overlooked the effect of social reforms there. Back in the good old days, you didn't have to recognise minorities as equals, everyone was white and straight and Christian, or could be ignored/removed if they weren't. When people say they are nostalgic for the 50s, that's what I usually assume they are getting at, if not usually overtly, and I could easily extend that the the 40s as well.

How so? I thought "modern world is the best, the past was awful" was covered pretty well. It wasn't until the 1990s did things get relatively decent, and that's because of how close we are to that era.

Talk about the 90s from a 2070s era and we would have been called closed minded barbarians with stupid looking hair. The only thing they would envy is the fact in the 90s you could walk down the street and be offered a job.

The same applies to the 1940s. In the 1980s, the 40s was still in memory of the newly minted seniors and even some younger middle aged people. It was nostalgia for what they once knew. It wasn't such a huge stretch because the WWII era still ran the show, even when they were old. This later held true for the baby boomers and then the flower children.

The old people still set the standard because they have high ranking careers they got over decades of work. The younger generation didn't have time to effect the world in the same way the entrenched older generation can.

Talk about the 40s in our modern 2014 mentality, and we see a bunch of racists who try to castrate anyone who is different or get bombed when we leave a light on. Talk about it in a 1980s mentality and it becomes "a time without nukes or big scary Russia."

Since nukes aren't scary anymore and Russia is relatively chill, people would be nostalgic for racist or sexist reasons like you just said. In the 1980s, not so much because that same generation was still in power and it wasn't such a huge throwback.

It all comes down to when you are nostalgic for an era. If I was nostalgic for the year 2013, I am not necessarily a racist rapist who wants to be a hipster with old technology even if the people in the year 2076 say so, because they have progressed so much more and are much more advanced.

Batou667:
Oddly enough this was something I was thinking about last week. I'm with the majority of the thread on this one: at some point it's only fair to call a crime expired - or at least admit that dragging nonagenarians through the legal system is in nobody's benefit apart from the bitter and vengeful.

There is revenge, and then there is retribution. Couldn't one say that it's unfair if they don't receive their punishment due to old age, while everyone else does?

Stephen Sossna:

Batou667:
Oddly enough this was something I was thinking about last week. I'm with the majority of the thread on this one: at some point it's only fair to call a crime expired - or at least admit that dragging nonagenarians through the legal system is in nobody's benefit apart from the bitter and vengeful.

There is revenge, and then there is retribution. Couldn't one say that it's unfair if they don't receive their punishment due to old age, while everyone else does?

It depends on why you punish people. If it's for the sake of punishment, than yes. If there are other goals involved like protecting society or rehabilitation, not necessarily.

It kind of depends.

When someone in the military carries out an order which is considered ethically wrong, the responsiblity lies with the person giving the order, not with the person carrying it out, since the latter has very little choice. (Refusing to carry out orders during wartime; That's a firing squad for you.)

So if the people they are hunting down are those who carry the responsibilities for giving the orders, devising the plans etc, AKA somekind of high command, then yes, I think it's justified to hunt them down and put them to justice. And ONLY if they were involved in very serious warcrimes.

If they were merely carrying out orders, I think they deserve no punishment.
It has long been proven people will do nearly anything when instructed by an authority figure, and as a soldier in wartime you have little to no choice as I already detailed.

generals3:

It depends on why you punish people. If it's for the sake of punishment, than yes. If there are other goals involved like protecting society or rehabilitation, not necessarily.

That's true. If you adhere to a theory that sees punishment as a means to an end, there is very little merit in punishing in situations like this. The only thing that could be accomplished is to reinforce the majority's trust in the law/legal system.

I, personally, gravitate more towards retributive rather than preventive punishment, but there are good arguments for both.

generals3:
I think the hunt for ex-nazi war criminals is quite petty.

Unless they are dead, they still are nazi war criminals, as they have commited nazi warcrimes.

Edit:

Ultratwinkie:
snip

I think the reason the Simon-Wiesenthal-Center cares about finding Nazi fugitives isn't because Simon Wiesenthal felt the 1940's were particularily wonderful times, quite the opposite, I honestly believe he felt they kind of sucked, since he spent almost half of the decade being a slave laborer for the Nazis and watching huge parts of his friends and relatives getting killed by aforementioned Nazis.

Stephen Sossna:

There is revenge, and then there is retribution. Couldn't one say that it's unfair if they don't receive their punishment due to old age, while everyone else does?

In my opinion, criminal justice should serve, in the following order of relevance: protection of the public, rehabilitation of the offender, discouraging potential offenders, and revenge or retribution. In the case of an aging ex-Nazi, the first two points are no longer an issue: the guy has had 70 years to mull over what happened, probably in constant fear of being "outed". As a deterrent it's fairly pointless as the Nazi party has been disbanded and its ideology is now anathema; Jews weren't erased form history, and in fact have their own country now. This leaves the only function of Nazi-hunting as revenge, which I feel is mostly futile as most of the concentration camp prisoners are, like their Nazi captors, dead and unable to appreciate the justice being meted out.

It's also problematic as, as other posters have pointed out, not everyone else does receive due punishment. If we were going to start hunting down war criminals to put on trial, might we not start with more recent conflicts like North Korea, African child soldiers, the Lockerbie bombers, IRA, Al Qaeda and so on?

Honestly, the constant 70-year witch hunt for former Nazis just strikes me as unnecessary, vengeful and honestly more than a little reminiscent of the way the Nazis themselves operated. Just let it go already.

Batou667:

In my opinion, criminal justice should serve, in the following order of relevance: protection of the public, rehabilitation of the offender, discouraging potential offenders, and revenge or retribution.

This is not an uncommon view, and the thought that criminal law should serve the betterment of society is certainly laudable. The issue is that protection, rehabilitation and deterrence are fundamentally at odds with the idea of retribution. The underlying justifications are completely different, even if the result may match up.

Batou667:

In the case of an aging ex-Nazi, the first two points are no longer an issue: the guy has had 70 years to mull over what happened, probably in constant fear of being "outed". As a deterrent it's fairly pointless as the Nazi party has been disbanded and its ideology is now anathema; Jews weren't erased form history, and in fact have their own country now. This leaves the only function of Nazi-hunting as revenge, which I feel is mostly futile as most of the concentration camp prisoners are, like their Nazi captors, dead and unable to appreciate the justice being meted out.

Those are all good arguments. As I have already said, a relative theory of criminal punishment (punishment as means to an end) will have severe trouble justifying punishment in this case. But your argument against retribution is also good. I would hold that society as a whole still has an interest in negating the injustice by punishing the perpetrator. But it seems true that with the members of society who have experienced the injustice dieing, that interest shrinks.

Batou667:

It's also problematic, as as other posters have pointed out, not everyone else does receive due punishment. If we were going to start hunting down war criminals to put on trial, might we not start with more recent conflicts like North Korea, African child soldiers, and so on?

Well, I am not convinced of that argument. After all, German criminal courts do not have jurisdiction in any of those countries.

Stephen Sossna:
snip

There is no statute of limitations on murder for a reason. You kill someone, justice will find you or you'll die in hiding.

The world has bigger problems to deal with at the moment. China is violating UN human rights and there are genocides still going on in Africa. Most of the surviving soldiers being hunted are very old,had very low ranks, and aren't very likely to cause much harm. What they did was wrong but it was 70 years ago and there are people today doing terrible acts against humanity. I support private contractors that killed a militia unit in Serra Leon after the militia massacred and raped a village. Have the UN hunt people like the militia down.

Ravinoff:
Honestly, the constant 70-year witch hunt for former Nazis just strikes me as unnecessary, vengeful and honestly more than a little reminiscent of the way the Nazis themselves operated. Just let it go already.

You know why we use witch hunt as a negatively connotated expression? Because witches didn't actually do what they were accused of doing. The people searched after by the Simon-Wiesenthal-Center actually enabled acts of genocide. There's a difference.

Ravinoff:
Honestly, the constant 70-year witch hunt for former Nazis just strikes me as unnecessary, vengeful and honestly more than a little reminiscent of the way the Nazis themselves operated. Just let it go already.

No vengeful would to leave the country in ruins and its population starving, but the US initiated the Marshall plan and rebuilt the the western half of Germany. Following legal process against those responsible for mass murder isn't. Apart from justice for the millions that were murdered, it also makes clear that legal authorities are willing to pursue war crimes charges forever.

Simonism451:

generals3:
I think the hunt for ex-nazi war criminals is quite petty.

Unless they are dead, they still are nazi war criminals, as they have commited nazi warcrimes.

Edit:

Ultratwinkie:
snip

I think the reason the Simon-Wiesenthal-Center cares about finding Nazi fugitives isn't because Simon Wiesenthal felt the 1940's were particularily wonderful times, quite the opposite, I honestly believe he felt they kind of sucked, since he spent almost half of the decade being a slave laborer for the Nazis and watching huge parts of his friends and relatives getting killed by aforementioned Nazis.

There is a difference. He was there, everyone else wasn't.

Unless you are a 90 year old who was there, everyone else has very little reason to care. So 99.99999999% of people who still care about 90 year old nazis are other 90 year olds.

The only reason the fervor is around in anyone beyond the greatest generation is because of Reagan's marketing of his "generation" even though he personally did no fighting. All because they were scared of the cold war and wanted to go back in time when they actually won something.

Seems kind of pointless from a legal perspective, I'm sure most if not all charges would have blown over by now, but you won't hear me complain about nazi hunting.

Johnny Novgorod:
Seems kind of pointless from a legal perspective, I'm sure most if not all charges would have blown over by now, but you won't hear me complain about nazi hunting.

Actually crimes against humanity don't expire so it's still very much possible to hunt the remaining nazis down.

viscomica:

Johnny Novgorod:
Seems kind of pointless from a legal perspective, I'm sure most if not all charges would have blown over by now, but you won't hear me complain about nazi hunting.

Actually crimes against humanity don't expire so it's still very much possible to hunt the remaining nazis down.

Well there goes my one objection. Hunt 'em down if there are any left.

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