New Zealand may harbour Nazi war criminals

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Nazi war criminals could be hiding out in New Zealand, says a leading war crime researcher with the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
Dr Efraim Zuroff, director of the centre's Israeli office, is disappointed New Zealand authorities did so little to prosecute suspects he had named in 1990.

"New Zealand set up a police unit to investigate the problem and decided not to proceed with any form of legal action.

"Unlike the other Anglo-Saxon Western democracies who all faced this problem ... New Zealand was the only country that ultimately chose to ignore this problem."

Zuroff was in Wellington yesterday to promote Operation Last Chance, a worldwide call for information leading to the conviction of Nazi war criminals.

There were various options available to New Zealand, he said. Canada, Britain and Australia passed laws allowing prosecutions and the US opted for deportation and denaturalisation of war criminals.

He believed New Zealand had closed down its investigations too early because a flood of evidence had since become available from recently opened archives in former Soviet bloc countries such as Latvia and Lithuania.

"Those archives from Eastern Europe have been a smoking gun and a key to many successful deportations and prosecutions in the past 15 years."

He said the number living in New Zealand was probably small, but given the history of post-war immigration and the make-up of those immigrants "it's quite possible, even likely that some of those individuals were involved in crime during the war".

As at April last year there were 1252 investigations still under way around the world and while many war criminals would be very old, the work would continue a few more years yet.

Commenting on Monday's sentencing in Austria of British historian David Irving for denying the Holocaust, Zuroff said: "It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy."

Irving, he said, was "the most dangerous holocaust denier in the world" because he started as a legitimate historian and was a gifted man with some cultural status, where all the other deniers were marginal figures.

But an interesting dimension to this case was that while Austria convicted an average of 35 Holocaust deniers each year it had "the world's worst record for prosecuting war criminals".

Zuroff said that, even when the last war criminal had been accounted for, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's work would continue.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said he could not comment on the National government's handling of the issue in the 1990s because he did not know the level of information it was given.

Israeli authorities had not raised the issue with him, he said.

* Irving's sentencing showed how seriously Austria regarded that time in its history, but most people would have thought a jail term was going too far, Prime Minister Helen Clark said yesterday.

"Austria has a tragic past in terms of the fact that that country was tied up with Nazism in the 1930s and 40s," Clark said.

"I think most people would feel that being jailed for the offence was probably going too far but nonetheless it does underline how seriously Austria deals with that part of its history."

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