LUDWIGSBURG, GERMANY — German justice officials called on Tuesday for 30 former Nazi guards to face prosecution for their role in facilitating mass murder at the Auschwitz death camp during World War II.
The Nazis killed some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews but also Roma, Poles and others, at Auschwitz in occupied Poland between 1940 and 1945.
Nearly seven decades on, the hunt is no longer focused on high-level perpetrators of the Holocaust but on bringing to justice thousands of people who helped to manage the Nazis' death machine.
The justice agency in the town of Ludwigsburg, which heads German probes into Nazi war crimes, said a total of 40 former guards from Auschwitz — the largest of the Nazi death camps — were still alive and 30 of them lived in Germany.
German media said the oldest was born in 1916 and the youngest in 1926. Justice campaigners say their advanced age makes it urgent that they are brought swiftly to trial.
"The accused ... are all former guards at the concentration camps Auschwitz-Birkenau and we take the view that this job — regardless of what they can be individually accused of — makes them guilty of complicity in murder," said chief prosecutor Kurt Schirm.
The agency's decision to probe the former guards was prompted by the case of Ukraine-born John Demjanjuk, who died last year while appealing against a five-year jail sentence for complicity in the murder of more than 28,000 Jews at the Sobibor camp in Poland.
Demjanjuk, a retired U.S. mechanic, was the first Nazi war criminal to be convicted in Germany without evidence of a specific crime or victim but purely on the grounds he had served as a guard at a death camp. He died in March 2012 aged 91.
The Ludwigsburg agency said it would hand over its findings to prosecutors in 11 German states to decide whether to bring charges against the 30 survivors.
It said it now planned to re-examine the actions of all former employees of death camps and special killing squads [Einsatzgruppen] in a project it said would be "extremely time-consuming" and would include research in archives held in Russia, Belarus and Brazil.
The next six months would be taken up with re-examining the files on Nazis who served at Majdanek death camp in eastern Poland, the agency said.
On Monday, a 92-year-old man who served in the Waffen-SS, Adolf Hitler's elite Nazi fighting force, went on trial in the western German town of Hagen on charges of having shot in the back and killed a Dutch resistance fighter in 1945.