Early in June 2016, a German court found former SS sergeant Reinhold Hanning guilty of 170,000 counts of accessory to murder. He was sentenced to five years in prison for his time as a guard at Auschwitz, the notorious death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
"It is my dream to be in Germany, in a German court, with German judges acknowledging the Holocaust," Hedy Bohm, an 88-year-old Auschwitz survivor, told the Associated Press. "I am grateful and pleased by this justice after 70 years."
Bohm wasn't the only death camp survivor present. There were three others and a total of twelve testified throughout Hanning's trial. One 95-year-old survivor demanded Hanning tell more young people about what happened at Auschwitz, which Hanning did not do.
Hanning joined the Hitler Youth in 1935 and then volunteered for the Waffen SS at age 18. After suffering a grenade injury fighting the Red Army in Kiev, he was sent to Auschwitz.
Hanning during WWII
Former SS sergeant Oskar Groening was convicted of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder while serving at Auschwitz. His job was particularly notorious: he was in charge of confiscating the personal property or arriving prisoners and quantifying it. Like Hanning, he may not have killed anyone, but he saw the mass killings and did nothing. Unlike Hanning, Groening has taken great pains to dispel any implications that the Holocaust did not happen, making public statements. It was his activism against Holocaust denial that led to his arrest and prosecution. Groening was 93 at the time of his 2015 trial.
Groening was also known as "the Bookkeeper of Auschwitz"
In 2009, 88-year-old former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk was extradited to Germany to stand trial for 27,900 counts of the same crime, for being a prison guard at the Sobibor Death Camp. Sentenced to five years, Demjanjuk died before his appeal could be heard. That wasn't the extent of it. Demjanjuk is thought to be "Ivan the Terrible," a former Red Army soldier and POW who worked at the Treblinka extermination camp. He was sentenced to death in Jerusalem in 1988 but that was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court for a lack of positive identification.
John Demjanjuk learning about his death sentence in Jerusalem.
In 1995, Canada pushed for the deportation of Helmut Oberlander, a 92-year-old former translator for a Nazi death squad. In 2014, 89-year-old Johann Breyer was arrested in Philadelphia, charged with being a member of the SS' "Death's Head" Battalion, who were tasked with gassing prisoners at Auschwitz. 94-year-old Michael Karkoc was arrested in Minneapolis for his time as an officer in the SS Galician Division, which allegedly massacred Poles and Ukrainians in 1944.
Germany has a special prosecutor's office for Nazi war crimes. There are still many more cases the office wants to go to trial. The LA-based Wiesenthal Center, founded by Mauthausen Concentration Camp survivor and famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, is dedicated to the arrest and conviction of the following fugitive Nazi war criminals, where they are thought to be and where they committed their crimes (in parentheses):
1. Helma Kissner – Germany (Poland) – served as a radio operator in the Auschwitz death camp from April to July 1944 – charged with accessory to murder in 260,000 cases.
2. Reinhold Hanning – Germany (Poland) – served in the Auschwitz death camp from January 1943 until June 1944 – charged with accessory to murder in 170,000 cases.
3. Helmut Oberlander – Canada (Ukraine) – served in Einsatzkommando 10A (part of Einstazgruppe D, which murdered an estimated 23,000 mostly Jewish civilians.
4. Hubert Zafke – Germany (Poland) – served as a medic in the Auschwitz death camp during the years 1943 and 1944 – charged with accessory to murder in 3,681 cases.
5. Alfred Stark – Germany (Greece) – participated in the September 1943 mass murder of 120 Italian officers on the Greek island of Kefalonia.
6. Helmut Rasbol – Denmark (Belarus) – during the years 1942-1943 served as a guard in the Judenlager established by the Nazis in Bobruisk, Belarus, during which almost all the Jewish inmates of the camp were executed or died of the horrible physical conditions.
7. Aksel Andersen – Sweden (Belarus) - during the years 1942-1943 served as a guard in the Judenlager established by the Nazis in Bobruisk, Belarus, during which almost all the Jewish inmates of the camp were executed or died of the horrible physical conditions.
8. Johann Robert Riss – Germany (Italy) – participated in the murder of 184 civilians in Padule di Fucecchio, Italy on August 23, 1944.
9. Algimantas Dailide – Germany (Lithuania) – served in the Saugumas (Lithuanian Security Police) in Vilnius – arrested Jews and Poles who were subsequently executed by the Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators.
10. Jakob Palij – USA (Poland) – served as a guard in the Trawniki concentration camp.
The Wiesenthal Center publishes a list of its most wanted Nazis every year, proof that obeying illegal orders will come back to haunt even junior NCOs.