| 27Nov2009 | Patrick Donahue and Brian Parkin

Germany’s Top Nazi-Hunter Finds New Lead in Brazilian Archive

Nov. 27, 2009 (Bloomberg) -- German investigators trying to track down Nazi criminals before they die may have had their “best break” in years after discovering a trove of Brazilian immigration files more than half a century old.

Kurt Schrimm, the top German justice official hunting Nazi fugitives, said his team stumbled on archives identifying “several hundred” Germans who moved to Brazil in the decade after World War II and who may be linked to Nazi crimes. Though only a fraction is still likely to be alive, Schrimm plans to follow up on the lead with Brazilian officials.

“The discovery will probably be our most important find in recent times,” Schrimm said in an interview Nov. 24, 2009 from his office in the southwestern German city of Ludwigsburg. Schrimm kicked off research in Brazil in July and will report again on findings after his team returns there in March.

The trial starting Nov. 30, 2009 of alleged death-camp guard John Demjanjuk in Munich underscores Schrimm’s effort to hunt down remaining Nazi criminals even if the search yields “order- takers, not givers” 76 years after Adolf Hitler took power. Demjanjuk, who is charged with aiding in the murder of 27,900 inmates in the Sobibor Nazi death camp in 1943, is the biggest catch yet for Schrimm, who took his job nine years ago expecting to close shop.

Instead, Schrimm, 60, a senior prosecutor in Stuttgart, doubled staff at the Central Office of State Judiciaries for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes from four to eight investigators -- now down to seven. As the number of clues filed to the office dwindled through the 1990s, Schrimm pressed the Central Office to seek new leads.

[W.Z. The comments of Mr. Schrimm indicate mental instability and and a desparate attempt to preserve his job.]

Soviet Archives

Those leads included sifting through 1945 war trial documents from Soviet archives involving German prisoners of war and Soviet collaborators. A military-history archive in Prague was found to contain complete files on the Nazi Waffen-SS up to 1943. In 1990, Italian court documents on SS atrocities were discovered after having disappeared in the 1950s.

The Brazilian files focus on suspected Nazi criminals entering on provisional passports. Schrimm and his team followed up leads from a Brazilian source who came across letters warning the authorities of Nazis trying to slip into the country with travel documents issued by the Red Cross. Little was done to bar their entry, Schrimm said.

South American Refuge

South America became the refuge of several high-ranking Nazi officers after the Third Reich’s collapse, including Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann, death-camp doctor Josef Mengele and Gestapo member Klaus Barbie. While Eichmann and Barbie were caught and tried, Mengele died in Brazil in 1979. Eichmann, captured in Argentina, was hanged in Israel in 1962; Barbie, extradited by Bolivia, died in a French jail in 1991.

“As hopeful as we are about the Brazil findings, just 5 percent of the suspects may still be alive and able to stand trial,” Schrimm said. “The Nazi commanders are all dead, but that doesn’t make the crimes of their younger subordinates any less prosecutable.”
The Central Office conducts pre-investigations that are then handed over to state prosecutors once evidence is sufficient for a formal probe. Schrimm’s unit currently has about 20 investigations open.

Efforts Graded

Schrimm’s Central Office works alongside such organizations as the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. The Wiesenthal Center graded Germany with a “B” in its 2009 ranking of efforts to bring Nazi criminals to justice. The U.S. received an “A.”

[W.Z. Simon Wiesenthal born in Buchach, Ukraine was one of the most evil Ukrainophobes and KGB/Nazi collabotators from the 20th century. The Wiesenthal Center carries on the tradition.]

Schrimm dismissed the rating, saying his Central Office doesn’t like “being graded like a school kid.”
“As long as there’s a possibility that these people are alive, we’ll continue our work,” Schrimm said in an earlier, Aug. 21 interview in his office, a baroque structure built in 1790 to house a prison. “I never would have thought it’d be nine years already -- and it will still be some time in the future.”

Schrimm, whose team taps on computers in two work rooms, gave a tour of one of the dusty file spaces piled to the ceiling with dog-eared documents detailing Nazi crimes that took place more than six decades ago. The quiet setting was a far cry from the 1960s and 1970s, when the unit was at its busiest tracking down Nazis. Since its foundation in 1958, the Central Office has conducted more than 7,400 investigations.

The case against Demjanjuk came about after an investigator accidentally [???] stumbled on a report on the Internet that the U.S. was seeking to revoke his passport. Demjanjuk’s name was known because he had been convicted in 1988, charged with being the Treblinka death-camp guard known as “Ivan the Terrible” -- only to be acquitted in 1993 by Israel’s Supreme Court after doubt about his identity emerged.

The Central Office, suspicious about his true identity, followed up on clues gained from already scheduled visits to Israel and the U.S. Once Schrimm’s team assembled what it thought was enough information to convict, they turned it over to state prosecutors.

“A few years ago nobody talked about Demjanjuk any more -- he fell into the memory hole,” Schrimm said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at [email protected], or Brian Parkin in Berlin at [email protected].

Last Updated: November 27, 2009 03:19 EST