Nazi war criminal convicted: Is it ever too late to seek justice?

by Matthew Smith

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A former Nazi guard has been jailed for five years for his role in the killings at Auschwitz – more than 70 years after the end of World War Two. Due to his age and frailty he is extremely unlikely to ever serve any time behind bars, despite his sentence.

Convicted Reinhold Hanning, a former SS Officer, denied complicity in 170,000 murders at Auschwitz and follows the conviction of another former Auschwitz guard, Oskar Groening, who was convicted last year of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews.

It is estimated that there were over 900.000 people in the SS.  Just a small number were involved in the Concentration camps, approximately 100 SS personnel in total and most have either been caught or have died.

Is the fact that this was a man was simply following orders ever an exuse? If he had not taken part it is likely he would have been shot or worse. Though little sympathy is likely to be found for a man who joined the SS out of choice, not the Wehrmacht.

A Nazi member from a young age, Mr Hanning was a member of the Hitler Youth and not just your run of the mill German soldier.

The question is how far do you pursue everyone engaged in Germany’s World War II machine? Was every one a war criminal, regardless of individual circumstances? Is there ever a case to say somebody was just following orders? Psychologically it may be that this man does not feel guilt because of a belief that following orders gives him immunity from guilt. If not him, it would have been someone else committing these crimes.
There were many atrocities committed not just against the Jewish people, but also many more groups of people who were not considered pure enough for Adolf Hitler’s Socialist Germany (make no mistake Hitler was a Socialist as he believed the state should control the means of production).

We cannot forget the victims who could not grow old like he could, life is not a monopoly game and there should never be a get-out-of-jail-free card simply because you have reached old age. We should all be equal under the law, no matter how old or how long it has taken for our past to catch up with us.

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