Nazi War Criminals In Australia

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Sir, – Recent revelations that the post-war Australian government, influenced by Cold War British and American intelligence agencies, recruited former Nazi war scientists has created a furor in Australia.

But such behavior, typical of all post-war Western governments, surely does not warrant Ephraim Zuroff’s allegation that Australia has the weakest record of any Western country in dealing with the Nazis.

As a former head of the the Australian Jewish community, I agree that, like all countries, Australia should have done more. But in fairness, it should be noted that, unlike the Americans who merely deported suspected Nazi war criminals, the Australians actually set up a special Nazi war-crimes unit committed to prosecuting suspected war criminals on Australian soil.

The unit invested tens of millions of dollars following up suspected war criminals and dispatched teams of investigators to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in order to seek out evidence and find witnesses.

Regrettably the project failed. A number of prosecutions were launched, but all defendants were acquitted, because the evidence was simply not forthcoming. There were hardly any surviving credible witnesses able to provide coherent testimony.

There are undoubtedly still a number of Nazi criminals living in Australia who should be brought to justice. But having regard to the fact that nearly 60 years have elapsed since the crimes were committed, it is unreasonable for Mr. Zuroff to drop names and release lists of suspects, and then slander the government if the parties are not prosecuted.

In a country like Australia, which prides itself on operating under the rule of law, no government will initiate action against a suspect unless there is sufficient evidence available to sustain a successful prosecution.

When the War Crimes Division was closed down, Australian Jewish leaders protested. In response, the authorities did undertake to review the situation if a suspected war criminal was identified and sufficient tangible evidence was forthcoming to sustain a prosecution in the courts.

I share Mr. Zuroff’s objectives and agree that no stone should be left unturned to bring Nazi murderers to justice no matter how old they may be.

So if Mr. Zuroff can identify a Nazi war criminal in Australia and also be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence – including credible living witnesses – that would lead to a successful conviction in a court of law, I would be willing to go with him to Australia and try to persuade the authorities to mount a prosecution.

The tragedy is that nearly all Western leaders in the immediate post war era – including the Australians – were so obsessed with the Cold War, that they betrayed their pledge to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. Now, alas, after nearly 60 years, it is incredibly difficult to do so.

Governing Board
World Jewish Congress, Jerusalem.

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