[JURIST] German prosecutors intend to reopen hundreds of investigations involving former Nazi death camp guards, according to Wednesday reports. This initiative results from the conviction [AP report] of John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile; JURIST news archive], a retired US autoworker who served as a guard at a camp in Poland in 1943 and was deported to Germany in 2009 in order to stand trial on allegations that he helped to murder thousands during the Holocaust. Demjanjuk was convicted [JURIST report] in May and sentenced to five years in prison, but was released due to his advanced age and that the verdict is not final. Because the remaining suspects are also advanced in age, the German prosecutors will not wait until Demjanjuk’s appeal process is finished, but will begin investigations within the next two months. The significance Demjanjuk’s conviction and its relation to the renewed investigations lies in the fact that he was convicted despite the absence of direct evidence that he participated in the actual killings. The court found that the establishment of his position as a guard at a camp, which was created for the purpose of extermination, was sufficient. These investigations and subsequent trials are possible in Germany as the country does not impose a statute of limitations for murder and related charges.
Germany is not alone in its pursuit to remedy crimes committed during the Holocaust. In July, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] at The Hague began hearing arguments [JURIST report] from Germany and Italy, which is seeking damages from Germany for crimes committed by Nazis during World War II. In November 2008, Germany filed a lawsuit against Italy in the ICJ in a bid to block new claims [JURIST report] for personal damages resulting from Nazi actions in World War II. Germany is arguing that an October 2008 decision [JURIST report] by Italy’s Court of Cassation [official website, in Italian] which ordered Germany to pay 1 million euros (USD $1.3 million) in damages to relatives of civilians killed in the town of Civitella during the war, violated the principle of state immunity. The lawyers representing Germany argued before the court that international law would be “atomized” and “politicized” [AP report] if the ICJ were to accept the Italian court’s decision. Germany further argues that it has already compensated Italy for Nazi-related damages pursuant to a 1961 treaty. The ICJ is not expected to hand down its decision for several months.