bloomberg.com | 27Nov2009 | Patrick Donahue and Brian Parkin
Germany’s Top Nazi-Hunter Finds
New Lead in Brazilian Archive
Nov. 27, 2009 (Bloomberg) -- German investigators trying to track down
Nazi criminals before they die may have had their “best break” in years
after discovering a trove of Brazilian immigration files more than half
a century old.
Kurt Schrimm, the top German justice official hunting Nazi fugitives,
said his team stumbled on archives identifying “several hundred”
Germans who moved to Brazil in the decade after World War II and who
may be linked to Nazi crimes. Though only a fraction is still likely to
be alive, Schrimm plans to follow up on the lead with Brazilian
“The discovery will probably be our most important find in recent
times,” Schrimm said in an interview Nov. 24, 2009 from his office in
the southwestern German city of Ludwigsburg. Schrimm kicked off
research in Brazil in July and will report again on findings after his
team returns there in March.
The trial starting Nov. 30, 2009 of alleged death-camp guard John
Demjanjuk in Munich underscores Schrimm’s effort to hunt down remaining
Nazi criminals even if the search yields “order- takers, not givers” 76
years after Adolf Hitler took power. Demjanjuk, who is charged with
aiding in the murder of 27,900 inmates in the Sobibor Nazi death camp
in 1943, is the biggest catch yet for Schrimm, who took his job nine
years ago expecting to close shop.
Instead, Schrimm, 60, a senior prosecutor in Stuttgart, doubled staff
at the Central Office of State Judiciaries for the Investigation of
National Socialist Crimes from four to eight investigators -- now down
to seven. As the number of clues filed to the office dwindled through
the 1990s, Schrimm pressed the Central Office to seek new leads.
[W.Z. The comments of Mr. Schrimm indicate mental instability and and a desparate attempt to preserve his job.]
Those leads included sifting through 1945 war trial documents from
Soviet archives involving German prisoners of war and Soviet
collaborators. A military-history archive in Prague was found to
contain complete files on the Nazi Waffen-SS up to 1943. In 1990,
Italian court documents on SS atrocities were discovered after having
disappeared in the 1950s.
The Brazilian files focus on suspected Nazi criminals entering on
provisional passports. Schrimm and his team followed up leads from a
Brazilian source who came across letters warning the authorities of
Nazis trying to slip into the country with travel documents issued by
the Red Cross. Little was done to bar their entry, Schrimm said.
South American Refuge
South America became the refuge of several high-ranking Nazi officers
after the Third Reich’s collapse, including Holocaust architect Adolf
Eichmann, death-camp doctor Josef Mengele and Gestapo member Klaus
Barbie. While Eichmann and Barbie were caught and tried, Mengele died
in Brazil in 1979. Eichmann, captured in Argentina, was hanged in
Israel in 1962; Barbie, extradited by Bolivia, died in a French jail in
“As hopeful as we are about the Brazil findings, just 5 percent of the
suspects may still be alive and able to stand trial,” Schrimm said.
“The Nazi commanders are all dead, but that doesn’t make the crimes of
their younger subordinates any less prosecutable.”
The Central Office conducts pre-investigations that are then handed
over to state prosecutors once evidence is sufficient for a formal
probe. Schrimm’s unit currently has about 20 investigations open.
Schrimm’s Central Office works alongside such organizations as the Los
Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. The Wiesenthal Center graded
Germany with a “B” in its 2009 ranking of efforts to bring Nazi
criminals to justice. The U.S. received an “A.”
Wiesenthal born in Buchach, Ukraine was one of the most evil
Ukrainophobes and KGB/Nazi collabotators from the 20th century. The
Wiesenthal Center carries on the tradition.]
Schrimm dismissed the rating, saying his Central Office doesn’t like
“being graded like a school kid.”
“As long as there’s a possibility that these people are alive, we’ll
continue our work,” Schrimm said in an earlier, Aug. 21 interview in
his office, a baroque structure built in 1790 to house a prison. “I
never would have thought it’d be nine years already -- and it will
still be some time in the future.”
Schrimm, whose team taps on computers in two work rooms, gave a tour of
one of the dusty file spaces piled to the ceiling with dog-eared
documents detailing Nazi crimes that took place more than six decades
ago. The quiet setting was a far cry from the 1960s and 1970s, when the
unit was at its busiest tracking down Nazis. Since its foundation in
1958, the Central Office has conducted more than 7,400 investigations.
The case against Demjanjuk came about after an investigator
accidentally [???] stumbled on a report on the Internet that the U.S. was
seeking to revoke his passport. Demjanjuk’s name was known because he
had been convicted in 1988, charged with being the Treblinka death-camp
guard known as “Ivan the Terrible” -- only to be acquitted in 1993 by
Israel’s Supreme Court after doubt about his identity emerged.
The Central Office, suspicious about his true identity, followed up on
clues gained from already scheduled visits to Israel and the U.S. Once
Schrimm’s team assembled what it thought was enough information to
convict, they turned it over to state prosecutors.
“A few years ago nobody talked about Demjanjuk any more -- he fell into
the memory hole,” Schrimm said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at
firstname.lastname@example.org, or Brian Parkin in Berlin at
Last Updated: November 27, 2009 03:19 EST