Get him before God

In the last couple of days I happened to have time to watch a lot of movies, coincidentally some of them broached the same subject: the dilemmas and stories behind capturing Nazi war-criminals. I started out by seeing an American film from 2010, The Debt, based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name (Ha-Hov or HaChov, in Hebrew). The film is describing how a team of Mossad agents try to capture a Nazi-doctor, who used to go under the name: “The surgeon from Birkenau”. There is no doubt that the doctor is modeled on the actual historic figure of Joseph Mengele. In the movie the doctor is named Vogel, and is by the way brilliantly portrayed by the Danish actor, Jesper Christensen.

After seeing the American version, I really wanted to watch the original Israeli version, yet my home film-collection could not meet my desire. Instead I satisfied my need for an Israeli film, by watching a film very similar, the brilliant 2004 movie Walk on Water. One of my all-time favorite Israeli actors, Lior Ashkenazi, is the lead protagonist of this film. He caught the attention of the whole world, when playing a leading role in the 2011 Israeli film Footnote. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of best foreign picture. Yet back in 2004, Ashkenazi was playing in Walk on Water, where he just like the characters from The Debt is a Mossad agent, trying to capture a Nazi War-criminal.

Both of these movies made me think whether or not it is time to leave it to the world of the movies, and stop caring in the real world about catching old criminals who committed crimes more than sixty years ago. Yet the reports from various European newspapers these last days made me think otherwise. The atrocities committed during World War 2 are still an important part of our history, and if the people who committed crimes are still out there, they should be arrested and put on trial. We owe it to the descendants of all the victims, and we owe it to the better of humanity.

It was the British newspaper The Sun who first published the news about Ladislaus Czizsik-Csatary. He is considered one of the most wanted Nazi-criminals, today being 97 years old. As a young commander in a Jewish Ghetto in Hungary, in what is today the city of Kosice in Slovakia, he was co-responsible for the murder of more than 15.000 Jews. Czizsik-Csatary was for his war crimes convicted in absentia at a trial in Czechoslovakia back in 1948. At that time he was nowhere to be found. More than fifty years later he re-surfaced in Canada, making a descent living for him self as a respected art dealer. The Canadian authorities revoked his Canadian citizenship, but before an investigation was launched Czizsik-Csatary was once again gone. After a tip from the Wiesenthal center, the British Newspaper the Sun got a hold of him last week, living alive and well in Hungary.

Despite his old age, as I mentioned Czizsik-Csatary is 97 years old, the Simon Wiesenthal center of Jerusalem believes that Ladislaus Czizsik-Csatary should be arrested and put on trial. The center has recently launched “Operation Last Chance”, a campaign to find and convict the last remaining living Nazi-criminals, before it is too late. When it comes to Czizsik-Csatary, it is now up to the Hungarian authorities to put together a case.

The Simon Wiesenthal center has a waning list of what they call “Most Wanted”. The list comprises of still living Nazi-criminals, and it a list of seven men between the ages of 88 and 97 years. Among the people on the list is a man born in the same country as me, Soren Kam. My fellow Danish countryman was born in the city of Copenhagen in 1921. During the war, Kam fought along other Danish volunteers in the German army. He was awarded the German Iron Cross and was named SS-Obersturmfuhrer. On leave in 1943, he and two other men carried out the assassination of a well-known Danish newspaper-editor, Carl Henrik Clemmensen. He was an editor on “BT”, a newspaper still existing to this day.

After the war Kam fled to Germany, and he became a German citizen in 1956. The case of the assassination on Clemmensen was brought to trial in Munich in 1968, but Kam was acquitted due to lack of evidence. It took until 2004, before a Danish court convicted Kam in absentia for the murder, demanding Germany to release him for trial. Yet after German authorities arrested Kam in 2006, he was once again acquitted and not handed over to Danish prosecution, this time on the account of the case being too old. Yet Kam appears on the Wiesenthal-center list of most wanted, because the institution claims that Kam during the German occupation of Denmark stole information on Danish Jews, thus aiding the Nazis in their persecution of the Jews. This claim by the Wiesenthal-center has been denied by the Danish Ministry of Justice, but the evidence has never been tried in a court of law.

I think that it is a shame that men like Ladislaus Czizsik-Csatary and Soren Kam have been walking around as free men ever since they ended their career as war-criminals. In honor of the victims and their descendants, they should be tried in the countries where the crimes where committed. It is of little meaning that these men are old, the memory of their crimes are still with us.

In the movie, Walk on Water, the boss of the character portrayed by Lior Ashkenazi, says that we need to get the guys before God. By that, the boss means that they should be killed. I believe that the men should be arrested and put on trial, but the days of catching criminals like Eichmann seem far away. The papers tell us that they are still out there, but it is only in the movies that they are put to justice, in one way or the other.

About the Author
David Jano earned his Master’s degree in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Southern Denmark. He has written on the Middle East for various Danish magazines.