JERUSALEM – The dramatic capture of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann in 1960 and his trial in Jerusalem a year later was a milestone for Israel and a watershed in the global hunt for Nazi war criminals.
In the 50 years since then, although there have been no further convictions in Israel, numerous notorious Nazis have been brought to justice elsewhere.
But despite the efforts of prosecutors, frequently prodded into action by private individuals who have dedicated themselves to hunting down Hitler’s killers, “hundreds, if not thousands” of criminals are still at large, says Israeli Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff.
And with perpetrators and witnesses dying off, or becoming unfit to testify, Nazi hunters say that a current round of trials may be the last, bringing to an end the bid to seek retribution for the millions of victims.
It may well mean that the trial of Hungarian Sandor Kepiro, due to start in Budapest next month, could signal the end of the era.
“Kepiro’s trial, which begins May 5, could actually be one of the last, if not the last major trial of a Nazi war criminal on criminal charges,” Zuroff told AFP.
Zuroff heads the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Los Angeles-based organization named after the Holocaust survivor who was perhaps the best known of Nazi-hunters until his death in 2005.
Information held at the centre shows that Kepiro, 97, was one of a group of Hungarian officers who organized the murder of hundreds of civilians in Novi Sad, Serbia, on January 23, 1942.
Their records show Kepiro was convicted in Budapest in 1944 for violating the officer’s code of honour but he was never punished due to the Nazi occupation, after which he escaped to Argentina.
He was tracked down by the Wiesenthal Centre in 2006, living back in Budapest.
“It’s the biological clock,” explains David Silberklang, senior historian at the Holocaust research centre of Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem institute, citing 91-year-old John Demjanjuk as an example.
Demjanjuk is currently on trial at a court in Munich on charges he helped to murder 27,900 Jews while serving as a guard at the Sobibor Nazi death camp.
“How many criminals can there be out there that are a lot younger than he? Maybe there are still some a few years younger, and a few that have lived longer than he, but we’re nearing the end of it,” Silberklang told AFP.
Although time is running out, Zuroff says the Wiesenthal Centre has chalked up a number of successes in the past decade, with judicial authorities around the world handing down 87 convictions and 77 indictments.
In 2002, the Wiesenthal Centre helped launch “Operation Last Chance” offering cash rewards for information leading to the conviction of Nazi war criminals.
The campaign was a success, with organizers handing over the names of more than 100 suspects to prosecutors.