Sunday, December 5th | 1 Tevet 5782

March 23, 2014 9:09 am

Justice is Never Too Late

avatar by Ronald S. Lauder


Bunk beds in a barrack at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The announcements last week in Germany that two individuals will be tried on charges of aiding and abetting mass murder at Auschwitz bring to mind the famous Faulkner line that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The individuals, a 93-year-old former Nazi medic and a 90-year-old female former camp guard, are pretty typical of those who evaded punishment after World War II: They were not prominent or notorious Nazis (although many of those escaped the law, too) but lower-level functionaries in charge of carrying out the dirty work of the Final Solution. Many thousands of such people simply went home after the war and faded into the woodwork.

As has been amply documented, in the immediate aftermath of the war, the exhausted Allied victors were more interested in rebuilding Europe than extracting justice. The German successor states, which found themselves at ground zero in the emerging Cold War, similarly had little interest in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.

Which is why the prosecutions announced this week, even 69 years after the war, serve a paramount social purpose, and I publicly commended the German authorities for not relenting in their pursuit of these two alleged criminals. They should keep at it.

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As I told reporters, the prosecution of those who participated in terrible crimes sends a clear message that justice must be done, no matter how late the hour. There cannot be a statute of limitation for crimes against humanity, and mass murderers and their helpers – even doddering old ones – must continue to live in fear of the long arm of the law.

Such trials, even decades after the crime, are edifying spectacles: They reaffirm the norms of civilized society and the common bonds of humanity – things we too often take for granted. They promote Shoah memory.

World War II is over, and the good guys won. Every time a presumed member of the Nazi killing machine is prosecuted, good wins again.

Ronald S. Lauder is president of the World Jewish Congress. This article comes from his blog at

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