By Michael Levitt
Germany’s continuing prosecution of Nazi war criminals contrasts sharply with Canada’s abject failure in bringing to justice Holocaust perpetrators granted refuge on our shores. Just last week in Brandenburg, the trial opened of a German centenarian, charged with 3,518 counts of accessory to murder while serving as a Nazi SS guard at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin during the Second World War.
German prosecutors spent 18 months investigating the man, collecting evidence from multiple sources, including a global search for witnesses. In Canada, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (the Toronto-based non-profit, human rights organization I run) conducted a national effort to identify survivors of Sachsenhausen to come forward to give testimony. We spoke with dozens of Canadians with relatives held captive or murdered there.
Invariably, when such cases make the news, some people take pity on the accused, insisting it’s inhumane to make elderly suspects stand trial. Strangely, such critics wouldn’t express such compassion for others accused of murder, for which there’s no statute of limitations.
Longtime Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff says those suffering from what he calls “misplaced sympathy syndrome” focus primarily on the perpetrators instead of the tragic fate of their innocent victims. They also forget that Hitler’s henchmen showed no mercy for those of old age when rounding up and killing Jews.
While Germany actively pursues those responsible for the Holocaust who are still alive today, the topic remains a sore point for Canadians dismayed by Ottawa’s shameful record in holding Nazi perpetrators accountable for their atrocities.
With Helmut Oberlander’s demise last month, Canada’s most well-known Nazi death squad member may now be gone but there are still many important lessons for us to learn from this travesty of justice and Canada’s dereliction of duty involving war criminals on our soil.