IT WAS A LONG TIME AGO AND I WASN'T THERE ANYWAY
No moral quarter can be given to crimes against humanity if we are to be true to our common Creator
It’s late, but not too late said the posters in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne in mid-2013.
The final push to bring to justice the remaining perpetrators of the Holocaust has been spurred by the successful prosecution in 2011 of the now deceased Ivan Demjanjuk. The court found that merely working as a guard in the Sobibor extermination camp was sufficient evidence of murder; there was no longer any need for direct evidence of criminal activity, thus overcoming the significant legal obstacles to establishing guilt so long after the event and with so few witnesses available any longer.
According to Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre there are still ‘sixty people, who, day in and day out over a lengthy period of time were actively involved in mass murder’ and the time is running out to deliver justice. Yet the campaign is not without its critics. The financial inducements for people to offer evidence is felt by some to demean the hunt for war criminals and to reward those whose consciences have not been honest enough to provide information before. There are even objections to the pursuit of frail, old men whose time has passed, proving how fundamental the role of image has become in human judgment. Why should someone be exempt from criminal law just because they are no longer able bodied?
That sixty old men are still being sought in Germany owes much to the failing of a previous generation to bring them to justice. In the 1950s and 60s, the people who staffed the legal system contained many people who performed this role during the Nazi era and it distorted their judgment. One SS leader of the mobile death squads who had ordered the murder of 15,000 Jews – some of whom he killed personally – was found by a German court to be merely an accessory on the grounds that he did not have anything against Jewish people personally. Such a judgment would be inconceivable now. The emergence of a new generation of public leaders and greater awareness globally of genocide and the slippery excuses people offer for their crimes have tightened the spurious loopholes that once existed.
The passage of time does not diminish forensic guilt and the pursuit of those lower in the Nazi hierarchy demonstrates there is no hiding place for people who say they had no alternative than to act monstrously. The International Criminal Court has devoted much of its energy to the pursuit of high profile political leaders, most recently in the charging of Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta for his role in crimes against humanity. This may have a valuable declaratory effect for some of the world’s heinous leaders but the pursuit of the last Nazi war criminals reminds us all that there should be no amnesty at any level for those involved in crimes against humanity and that they are at risk of prosecution for the rest of their lives. Earthly judgment at its best is a reflection of the divine justice which people of faith believes awaits us all; if we do not care about evil then we do not care about God.
The victims of Jimmy Savile, and the British public more generally, have been cheated by his death, for they were unable to pass judgment on his sexual crimes and actually sent him to his burial with cheers for his charitable work. We should not be surprised that the victims and their relatives would also want to unmask the people who made Auschwitz possible but who live with the veneer of respectability today.
There are great risks that the present century will witness many more crimes against humanity and further attempts to eradicate certain ethnic groups. Whenever powerful and violent ruling groups are threatened, as in Syria, or scarce resources are competed for, as in Darfur, or ethnic hatred is stoked, as in Rwanda, dark impulses are unleashed to which no moral quarter can be given if we are to be true to our common Creator.
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