Lately numerous former Nazi war criminals are being prosecuted. The latest being a 97 year old former SS soldier.

But why are they being prosecuted now? Why did they take so long to do this?

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    Please define "lately" and "numerous". What's the timeframe you are talking about? How many other examples do you have in that timeframe?
    – yannis
    Oct 17, 2019 at 22:01
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    Just from reading the news. The last few years I've read about 4 or 5 articles about it. I tried to find a list of it and I came across this article that pretty much answers my question: theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/31/the-last-nazi-hunters Oct 17, 2019 at 22:14
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    The "why" angle is strange: do you object to that? Are nazi crimes no longer to object? Please clarify your title with an edit Conicidentally, I think this Q might be better as something like: 'Why weren't' all nazi war criminals prosecuted in a more timely fashion?' (Please don't reply in comments only, but edityour question to contain everything needed to understand it and answer it.) Oct 17, 2019 at 22:25
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    @Philipp Am unsure about the migration path. Wouldn't – if – HistorySE be a better target? Oct 17, 2019 at 22:34
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    The question has two obvious and totally different interpretations: "Why are they still prosecuting and don't stop at last" and "Why did it take them so long to start a prosecution".
    – gnasher729
    Oct 19, 2019 at 15:20

2 Answers 2


It is reported that this is the result of new legal reasoning in German law. In the cases of Demjanjuk in 2011 and 2015 it was found that being a camp guard is enough to be found guilty of accessory to murder, even without specific evidence of a crime. In a more recent trial (Rehbogen) the prosecution used the same reasoning to charge and try a concentration camp guard.

  • That's true. But according to the comment I published. It's not the whole story. Oct 20, 2019 at 21:07

There are fewer such trials than there were half a century ago, but each gets more media attention, simply because there are so few and it was so long ago. Germany is prosecuting the last living defendants of a very long backlog of delayed justice.

  • There is no statute of limitation on murder.
  • A large number of Nazi criminals were tried immediately after WWII, both by the Allies and by the restored German legal system. Plenty of death sentences, plenty of jail terms.
  • In West Germany (the FRG) and to a lesser degree in East Germany (the GDR) there was some hesitation to try all those involved in Nazi crimes, because so many were accessory to the crimes. For instance, there was a tendency to exonerate the Wehrmacht by blaming the SS, and to exonerate SS men if they were "useful" for rebuilding.
    Are you aware of Wernher von Braun, the rocket scientist? Or Heinrich Lübke, a West German President?
  • While Nuremberg made clear that "just following orders" was no valid defense, in practice this led to many cases being dismissed. After all, prosecutors and judges have been "just following orders" themselves during the Nazi era. A disturbing number continued their careers.
  • The prosecution was hindered by the Cold War, both because archives and witnesses were unavailable and because charges became politicized.

Finally, as user6726 mentions, there is a greater tendency to prosecute logistical support for genocide as being murder or accessory to murder. Less grave crimes would have run through their statute of limitations in the 1960s at latest, so there was no attempt to prosecute them in the 70s or 80s.

I think user6726 is not quite correct when he talks about

even without specific evidence of a crime

The difference is that there need not be specific evidence of pulling a trigger or pouring gas as long as there is evidence that the defendant helped to imprison victims in the camps where other people killed them. This is similar to the legal doctrine in the US that when someone dies during the commission of a crime, all participants of that crime are guilty of murder.

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    I think "a large number" is a bit of an overstatement. Germany tried about 15k (of 170k accused) from 1945 to 2005, with 6.6k convictions, the majority between half a year and year of prison. This has been called 'pathetic', 'a history of failure', and 'too little, too late'.
    – tim
    Oct 18, 2019 at 6:16
  • I've changed "must be no" to "need not be". (If your mother tongue is German, you wanted muss nicht, but "must not" is darf nicht.) Oct 18, 2019 at 8:14
  • @tim, there were also trials held by the Allies, as mentioned by the first bullet point. Germany did not have a reconstructed legal system in 1945.
    – o.m.
    Oct 18, 2019 at 14:04
  • You make some valid points. But according the the article I posted in the comments you leave some things out. But you make an excellent point about von Braun. Still missing some parts for me to mark it as answered though. Oct 20, 2019 at 21:10
  • @dan-klasson, if you want your own answer, write your own answer.
    – o.m.
    Oct 21, 2019 at 4:29

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