Despite ongoing efforts to bring them to justice, many former Nazis have avoided prosecution for their role in the Holocaust, as well as other wartime atrocities.
Born in Ukraine, Demjanjuk immigrated to the United States after World War II and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in the 1950s, working for many years in a Ford automotive plant in Ohio. In 2011, after lengthy court proceedings in the United States, Israel and Germany, a German court convicted him of being an accessory to more than 28,000 counts of murder while serving as a guard at the Sobibor concentration camp in Poland in 1943. Though Demjanjuk was released pending appeal and died in a German nursing home in 2012, the landmark ruling set an important precedent to charge guards who worked at Nazi death camps as accessories to the murders that occurred there, even when—as in Demjanjuk’s case—there was no evidence linking the defendant to a specific crime.
As a Hungarian police officer in the city of Kosice (now in Slovakia, but then occupied by Hungary) in 1944, Csatary allegedly organized the deportations of more than 15,000 Jews to Auschwitz. A Czechoslovak court convicted Csatary in absentia and sentenced him to death in 1948. He fled to Canada, where he worked as an art dealer until 1997. After Canadian authorities discovered he had lied on his passport application and revoked his citizenship, Csatary disappeared for another decade, until he was arrested in Budapest in 2012. Named by the Simon Wiesenthal Center (a Jewish human rights organization known for its determined hunting of former Nazis) as its “most wanted” suspect in 2011, the 98-year-old Csatary died while awaiting trial under house arrest in 2013.
Following the precedent set by Demjanjuk’s 2011 conviction, German authorities launched a renewed campaign to bring in some 50 suspected former guards at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where some 1.5 million people were murdered between 1941 and 1945. The first to face charges, in 2013, was 93-year-old Hans Lipschis, who lived in Chicago for nearly three decades after World War II before being deported for lying about his Nazi past. Prosecutors alleged that Lipschis worked as a guard at Auschwitz from 1941-43, though he maintained he was only a cook. In February 2014, a German court ruled that Lipschis, who suffers from dementia, was mentally unfit to stand trial.
A platoon commander in a Ukrainian battalion of the SS, the elite Nazi storm troopers, from 1942-44, Katriuk had immigrated to Canada by the 1950s. In 1999, a Canadian court found that he had lied about his past to enter the country, but the Canadian government later decided not to strip him of his citizenship. After a new study surfaced alleging that Katriuk was an active participant in a massacre of more than 150 people, mostly women and children, in the village of Khatyn in Belorussia (now Belarus) in 1943, the Simon Wiesenthal Center had placed him in second place on their annual list of the “most wanted” former Nazis. In May 2015, even as Russian authorities attempted to extradite Katriuk to try him for his alleged war crimes, the 93-year-old beekeeper died in Quebec after a long illness.
After former SS-Unterscharführer (junior squad leader) Oskar Groenig was released from a British prison following World War II, he left the military and began a normal middle-class life working at a glass-making factory in Lower Saxony, Germany. Only decades later, after Groenig heard stories about people denying the Holocaust ever happened, did he decide to speak out about his service as a guard at Auschwitz. In a 2005 BBC documentary, he described the gas chambers and the selection process, though he said he did not take part directly in the killing. In July 2015, a court in northern Germany convicted Groenig—dubbed the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz” for his alleged responsibility of keeping track of the money and possessions taken from the prisoners upon their arrival—with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, and sentenced the 94-year-old to four years in prison.
Of the ever-shrinking number of former Nazis still alive to be prosecuted, Gerhard Sommer currently heads the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of the “most wanted.” In 1944, Sommer was a soldier in the 16th SS Panzer Division when he allegedly helped massacre 560 civilians, including 119 children, in the Tuscan town of Sant-Anna di Stazzema. Though an Italian court convicted 10 former SS officers, including Sommer, in absentia in 2005, Germany never extradited any of them, and in 2012 German prosecutors dropped Sommer’s case for lack of evidence. After the case was reopened in 2014, specialists found that the 93-year-old Sommer—who lives in a nursing home north of Hamburg—was suffering from severe dementia and was unfit for trial.
A former corporal of the Gebirsgjäger division, the 92-year-old Stark stands accused of ordering the execution of 117 Italian prisoners of war on the Italian-occupied island of Kefalonia, Greece in 1943. Germany and Italy broke their alliance in September of that year, and in the aftermath of the break the Germans killed nearly 9,500 officers of the Acqui Division, including the POWs on Kefalonia. In 2012, a military court in Rome sentenced Stark in absentia to life in prison, but Germany has also refused to extradite him to face justice. Stark currently occupies the second position on the SWC’s “most wanted” list.
Johann Robert Riss
After resistance fighters shot two German soldiers, Nazi troops reportedly retaliated by massacring some 184 civilians (including 27 children and 63 women) in the Tuscan town of Padule di Fucecchio in 1944. A year later, British sergeant Charles Edmonson took statements about the massacre from survivors, in the hopes of bringing those responsible to justice. Based on the accounts he collected, a military court in Rome sentenced Riss and two other former Nazis to life in prison in absentia in 2011 for their roles in the killings. The court also requested that the German government pay 14 million euros in compensation to the remaining relatives of the victims; Germany declined, and refused to extradite the three men. Riss, who is now 92 years old and lives in a village south of Munich, is third on the SWC’s current “most wanted” list; he denies the charges against him.
As an officer in the Lithuanian Security Police, sponsored by the Nazis, Dailide allegedly arrested 12 Jews who were attempting to escape Vilna, a Jewish ghetto in the city of Vilnius, in the early 1940s. He is believed to have handed them over to the Nazis, who presumably executed them. Dailide immigrated to the United States after the war, and was working as a real estate agent in Florida by the 1990s, when the U.S. government discovered his Nazi past and stripped him of his citizenship. After being deported, he and his wife settled in the small town of Kirchberg, in western Germany. Though a Vilnius court convicted him of war crimes, the Lithuanian government made only half-hearted attempts to bring him home to stand trial, and in 2008 a high court in Lithuania ruled Dailide’s health was too poor for him to serve time in prison. Meanwhile, he sits at No. 4 on the SWC “most wanted” list.
Adolf Hitler (?)
Okay, so maybe Hitler doesn’t exactly belong in the same category with these other “most wanted” Nazis—but there are still some people who believe the Nazi leader did not, in fact, commit suicide in a Berlin bunker in April 1945. Instead, as the leading theory goes, he escaped to South America and lived out the rest of his life unpunished for his unfathomable war crimes. Though scholars agree that Hitler and his wife, Eva Braun, carried out a suicide pact in that bunker, rumors of Hitler’s survival surfaced as early as 1945, largely because officials never publicly identified the couple’s remains. In early 2014, the FBI declassified more than 700 pages of tips and notes on investigations into whether Hitler, like other leading Nazis, escaped to South America. The revelations sparked new investigations into the enduring conspiracy theory of Hitler’s escape, including expeditions into the secret network of tunnels Hitler had built under Berlin and the darkest reaches of the Argentinean jungle.