Jens Rommel is an active hunter for Nazi war criminals. He is motivated to make sure that these heinous crimes do not disappear into history and that they remain important in today’s world. Rommel admits that each year the work becomes more difficult, and that the results of his work yield less with time. But he feels there is still a lot of work to be done on this issue. (Rommel is not related to Hitler’s field marshal, Erwin Rommel.)
There are a handful or so of new Auschwitz-related trials that are imminent. Many of the current suspects plead not guilty. They are getting very old and frail, which increases Rommel’s urgency to prosecute them all. Rommel’s central office has been awarded ten more years by Germany’s state justice ministers to investigate Nazi crimes. But at the conclusion of the next decade, the office will be turned into a documentation center.
In 2011 the conviction of Sobibor death camp guard John Demjanjuk was a landmark decision. It was the first time a man was convicted for involvement in a death camp without proving a specific crime was committed. Finding this to be sufficient grounds for culpability opened the door to many more potential Nazi perpetrators. Rommel explained, “Even with no hard proof of a specific deed, being a wheel in the machinery of a camp is now punishable.”
Despite the conviction of Demjanjuk taking place 70 years after the fact, it was still meaningful. Dutch Jew David van Huiden lost his parents and sister to the Sobibor gas chambers. He is 84 years old and attended portions of the trial. Huiden agrees the conviction is not too late, since the crimes were so serious and terrible. No one understands to this day how those acts took place in a civilized society.
This conviction has greatly widened the spectrum of potential suspects. It has been the catalyst for a new wave of investigations into guards, medics and other camp workers. Many of the current trials are happening because of the Demjanjuk case.
Convictions today certainly do not eradicate or reverse the war crimes that took place in the 1940’s. However, they can help the survivors and the Jewish community as a whole to come to terms with the horrors of the past. Survivors who have attended previous trials of war crimes, spoke of the immense feeling of relief when they saw Nazi Criminals being convicted.
What seems clear is that right until the end that Jens Rommel will continue to hunt the last remaining war criminals.