By Mel O’Brien
I realise that criminals of any kind want to get away with their crimes, want to avoid facing justice and punishment. But sometimes I do wonder why, after all these years, some Nazi war criminals cannot simply admit to their crimes and bring some peace to the families of victims of crimes committed over 60 years ago. I have previously written of the recent push to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. Two extraditions are currently in play, in the US and Australia.
In the US, John Demjanjuk (né Ivan), who is now 89, is fighting extradition from the US to Germany. Germany wants to prosecute Demjanjuk for crimes committed in 1943 whilst working at Sobibor camp in Poland. He has managed to evade justice for almost 30 years. In the past week, he has sought to avoid extradition, by arguing that it will amount to torture.The argument of his lawyer is as follows: "The grounds are that in light of his deteriorated health and the German government’s apparent intention to arrest and put him in jail… the anguish and pain that he’ll suffer from arrest and incarceration and trial in Germany will amount to torture under the convention against torture". So, the"suffering" from a fair arrest, incarceration and trial amounts to torture, does it? I find this argument incredulous (and also a clear indication that his lawyer isn’t familiar with the definition of torture; US Code definition here). Yes, incarceration is not pleasant. However, it is not meant to be- it is, after all, a punishment for a wrong inflicted, in this case upon a large number of people. Provided the trial and conditions of detention are fair, then certainly arrest, incarceration and trial does not begin to come close to the suffering forced upon the victims of the Holocaust, particularly at camps such as Sobibor.
In Australia, Charles Zentai, now 87, is fighting extradition to Hungary. The extradition has been approved by the Federal Court, but Zentai intends to continue appealing, if necessary, all the way to the High Court (and if so, it will be the second time, as the process has already been to the High Court early in 2008 after previous appeals). So, instead of facing justice for heinous war crimes, Zentai has lived a comfortable life in Perth (which I hear is a truly lovely city), and is now proceeding to tie up the Australian legal system with appeal after appeal against his extradition.
I personally find it frustrating that in the case of these mass crimes, so few perpetrators can actually admit to what they did and face justice. The evidence against them is usually overwhelming- and in this case, has weathered the winds of time. It is maddening to have war criminals argue that their age is a reason for which they should not face a fair trial. At no point was age or infirmity, or any other physical, mental or other situation taken into account by the Nazis when brutally murdering people or working their victims to death, or conducting horrific medical experiments on others. While I am not condoning ‘an eye for an eye’ situation, I simply do not believe that Nazi war criminals should be able to use their age as a way of evading justice after a comfortable life in which they have probably not given a thought to the victims of their crimes and their families- who in contrast, undoubtedly live with the horrors they experienced every single day. Currently, the stay of deportation on Demjanjuk has been removed, so he will supposedly be extradited to Germany. Fingers crossed that this does happen and that he does face justice for his crimes, so that the victims and their families can obtain some closure. These men may be elderly grandfathers now, but the bottom line is that if they committed war crimes, they must face justice and be prosecuted for their crimes.