Nazi war criminals must be punished

Inevitably as time passes, more and more of the men and women that were alive at the time of World War II, will pass on to their eternal rest, and it is up to us, their children and grandchildren to ensure that the stories of that time in history are preserved.

It is very simple, in this frenetic world, to forget the past and the lessons that we should have taken to heart, from those parts of history that are shameful to all mankind. One of the most shameful episodes in modern history is the treatment meted out to the Jewish people by the Nazis during World War II.

Is it difficult to remember the horrific treatment suffered by the Jewish people when elderly gentlemen such as Hubert Zafke, Oskar Groening or Reinhold Hanning are put on trial for their part in the Holocaust? Perhaps, to many it is, but it should not be.

Hubert Zafke who is now aged 95 has lived a long and peaceful life seemingly untroubled by the fact that as a medic assigned to the camp at Auschwitz, one of his duties would have been adding Zyklon-B pesticide granules to the gas chambers thus leading to the deaths of hundreds of people.

In 2015, Oskar Groening another elderly gentleman, aged 94, was incarcerated for four years after being found guilty of being complicit in the deaths of 300,000 Jewish people whilst a guard at Auschwitz.

Currently, Reinhold Hanning aged 95 is on trial for his part in the deaths of 300,000 people at Auschwitz.

Mankind cannot allow our natural tendency to protect the elderly or infirm to influence our ability to hold these men accountable for the crimes that they committed. Many commentators seem to feel that it is unconscionable to place these elderly, and, at times, infirm men on the stand and demand that they are held accountable; but what of the Jewish people.

Many elderly Jewish people are still haunted by the treatment meted out to them and their families.   Treatment that was horrific, inhumane and completely immeasurable – treatment carried out at the whim of one man.

How can we expect these people, who have had to build their lives after emerging from a living hell, to simply sit back and say, “Don’t worry, all is forgiven.” Perhaps the perpetrators and collaborators of the events of 70 years ago have been forgiven by the Jewish community but the rest of the world should not back away from seeking retribution on their behalf.

As has been written before, there is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity and the perpetrators of any crime against humanity should be hunted for as long as they draw breath on this earth.

The defence that one was following orders is simply not acceptable and has been denounced by the courts for many years. Whilst it is true that going against orders is never comfortable; it should be remembered that doing nothing also has consequences. Those consequences are now being faced by men who stood back and did nothing whilst evil was allowed to flourish.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE