The Simon Wiesenthal Center says it has discovered the names of hundreds of Nazi war crimes suspects in Central and Eastern Europe and that dozens of them are already being investigated by local prosecutors. The announcement was made in Hungary, where the Center launched a new stage in a campaign to bring alleged war criminals across the region to justice.
Toll-free phone lines, publications and financial rewards are among the tools used by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, named after the famous Nazi hunter, to track down those who once carried out Adolf Hitler's Final Solution to exterminate Jews in Europe. The action, known as "Operation Last Chance," was originally launched in 2002 in the Baltics, and then expanded to Poland, Romania and Austria.
Following the campaign's introduction in Croatia two weeks ago, it has now begun in Hungary, which was a close ally of Nazi Germany during most of World War II when about 600,000 Hungarian Jews were massacred.
Next month it is to be launched in Argentina where many European Nazis are believed to hide, followed by Germany and Ukraine later this year.
The Israeli director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, said since the operation began two years ago, nearly 300 credible names of war crimes suspects have been discovered.
"To date we have received the names of 296 suspects," he said. "73 of those names have been submitted to local prosecutors. Dozens of names are currently being evaluated, primarily the evidence from Austria, Romania and Poland. And we are very hopeful it will lead to actual prosecutions."
But Mr. Zuroff says he is frustrated that in countries like Hungary not a single war criminal was brought to justice since the collapse of Communism in 1989. He says the reason why "Operation Last Chance" was delayed was a lack of resources to start the campaign in Hungary and other former Soviet satellite states.
"Before you were totally dependent on the Communist authorities who played their own political games and only released information that would serve their purposes," said Efraim Zuroff. "Today the archives are open in most countries and there is full access and maximum or almost maximum research can be carried out."
He adds his organization is offering $10,000 for information leading to the prosecution and punishment of a Nazi war criminal. But he says not everyone has accepted the reward.
Among those people approaching the Center with information was reportedly a woman from a Hungarian village who still lives near a garden where three Hungarian Jews were killed by a Hungarian guard after being forced to dig their own graves. They were murdered because Hungarians guarding Jews on their way to concentration camps got angry when a hungry Jewish girl received bread from a villager. Officials say the guard who allegedly shot the women is still alive.
The founder of the Targum Shlishi Foundation, which supports Operation: Last Chance, Aryeh Rubin, whose parents suffered in the Holocaust, says it is not too late to pursue the culprits.