Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nazi, alleged war-criminal Samuel Kunz dies before his trial

From The Australian, November 23, 2010, by Roger Boyes (The Times):

A NAZI death camp guard accused of complicity in the murder of 430,000 Jews has died in his bed, aged 89, before being brought to trial.

The case of Samuel Kunz, No 3 on the Simon Wiesenthal Centre list of most-wanted Nazi criminals, illustrates the fact that the hunt for Holocaust murderers has become a race against the ageing process.

(See these previous JIW postings for background.)

"It's incredibly frustrating," said Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter at the centre. "But it was important that he was indicted. At least a small measure of justice was achieved."

Kunz had admitted to being a guard at the death camp in Belzec, in German-occupied eastern Poland, between January 1942 and July 1943. The number of murders on the indictment corresponds to the number of people who died at Belzec during his 18-month tour of duty. He was also accused of the personal murder of 10 inmates in two shooting incidents.

"We were all aware that Jews were being exterminated there, and later also burnt," he told investigators. He also told them that the "corpses of the gassed Jews were buried in grave pits and cremated because the stench had become unbearable".

Kunz was questioned three times after the war - in 1969, 1975 and 1980 - but was never prosecuted. His testimony was being recorded for possible use in the trials of other suspected war criminals and he was left alone, with his state pension, to tend his garden and listen to classical music in his cottage in Wachtberg, outside Bonn.

But the German authorities have suddenly been seized by a sense of urgency. The last Holocaust survivors are frail, their memories often foggy. The Nazi perpetrators are well into their eighties and fend off prosecutors with claims of ill health.

Kunz came to the attention of German prosecutors when he was called as a witness in the case of John Demjanjuk.

Billed as the last significant Nazi war crimes trial, the German authorities have been trying the 90-year-old retired car worker as an accomplice in the killing of 27,900 people in the Sobibor death camp.

Mr Demjanjuk, frequently absent from the Munich courtroom because of health problems, denies the charges and denies having been an SS guard. Documents presented to court, however, have linked Mr Demjanjuk to a SS training camp in Trawniki. Kunz was also trained at Trawniki and was able to tell the court what kind of preparation Mr Demjanjuk received.

His testimony has already been given and the death of Kunz has no immediate impact on the trial of Mr Demjanjuk.

The problem of standing up cases against Nazi criminals was underlined earlier this year by the death of 95-year-old Erich Steidtmann.

The former police captain was suspected of taking part in mass shootings of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. Yet he lived unobserved in Germany until 2007 when he inadvertently exposed himself through a libel case against a former lover. Before the full facts could be established, however, he died, like Kunz, peacefully at home....

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