Katie Engelhart: Prosecuting Nazis in the 21st Century

Roundup: Historians' Take

This week, in Nazi news...

On Saturday, another former concentration camp guard bit the dust. This time around, it was Michael Seifert, 86, who served at the Bolzano camp in northern Italy during WWII.

The next day, Sunday obituaries detailed the "Beast of Bolzano's" beastliest crimes. In 2000, Seifert was convicted by a military tribunal on nine counts of murder, for crimes he committed in Nazi-occupied Italy. One of his victims was a pregnant woman, who Seifert raped and tortured before killing. Another was a boy who Seifert left to slowly starve.

Yet for a man who managed to distinguish himself, even during the war, with his extreme brutality, Seifert's banal death--in an Italian hospital bed, following surgery for a gastric complication (we might call it "old age")--seems an unsatisfying end. Adding to that: Seifert served just two years of jail time for his vicious crimes. He spent more time appealing and fighting extradition charges than he did locked up.

We keep hunting Nazis. But when we find them, we don't know quite what to do with them.

Seifert's profile is far from unique: former concentration camp guard; in his 80s; discovered living "quietly" in some country far from home (Seifert worked for years, and eventually retired, in Canada); brought to trial more than half a century after his alleged crimes.

Just last week 88-year-old Peter Egner, an ethnic German moved to the U.S in the 1960s, admitted in court that he served in a Nazi security unit in occupied Yugoslavia. He faces extradition to Serbia, which has issued a warrant for his arrest.

These aging Nazis are tracked down in different ways. They're outed by crusading journalists, dug up by self-described professional "Nazi hunters," or discovered through government investigations.

Once they're found, though, we hit the same old roadblocks....

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