BERLIN -- Nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, federal authorities in Germany said Tuesday that they were recommending that charges of accessory to murder be brought against 30 alleged guards at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Kurt Schrimm, who heads the special prosecutors’ office that looks into Nazi war crimes, said 49 suspects were investigated.
Nine have died since the inquiry was launched in April, he said. Seven live in foreign countries, including Israel, the United States, Austria, Brazil, Croatia and Poland. Two could not be found, and one has been taken into custody.
The Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, which is based in Ludwigsburg, cannot launch prosecutions but is sending the 30 cases to regional prosecutors, who will decide whether to press charges.
Schrimm told reporters that the health of the suspects, as well as potential witnesses, could make prosecutions difficult. The eldest of the alleged former guards is 97.
"The biggest enemy is time," Schrimm said.
Prosecutors in Stuttgart are preparing a case against Hans Lipschis, 93, who was taken into custody in May on suspicion of complicity in mass murder. Lipschis told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that he had worked as a cook at Auschwitz.
Schrimm said that even those who worked in the kitchens played a role in the camp’s overall purpose.
For more than 60 years, German courts brought charges of accessory to murder only against suspected war criminals in specific killings. That changed in 2011, when a Munich court sentenced former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk to five years in prison for serving as a guard at the Sobibor death camp.
Demjanjuk maintained that he had been mistaken for someone else. He died last year in a Bavarian nursing home while appealing his conviction.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, praised German authorities for seeking to apply the legal precedent as widely as possible. He said it was a shame that this approach had not been applied previously, allowing more suspected war criminals to be brought to justice.
Since the Nuremberg trials, more than 172,000 war crimes investigations have been conducted in Germany. About 6,600 people have been convicted, 5,000 have been acquitted, and proceedings have been discontinued against 2,000, according to the Ludwigsburg office.
Tuesday’s announcement came a day after the start of the trial of Siert Bruins, a 92-year-old former SS officer accused of shooting to death Dutch resistance fighter Aldert Klaas Dijkema in September 1944 in Appingedam, Netherlands. Bruins has said he was present at the killing but was not the one who shot him.
Vasagar is a special correspondent.