Two suspected members of Adolf Hitler’s mobile ‘Einsatzgruppen’ death squads have been identified at the ages of 94 and 95 – but there is not enough evidence to charge them for war crimes.
Kurt Gosdek and Herbert Wahler both appear on Nazi lists of an SS unit that was attached to Einsatzgruppe C.
The group was tasked with massacring racial or political enemies of the Nazi regime during the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
This a 1944 file photo of part of the Babi Yar ravine at the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine where the advancing Red Army unearthed the bodies of 14,000 civilians killed by fleeing Nazis
It was responsible for one of the most notorious massacres, the shooting of nearly 34,000 at Babi Yar, a ravine northwest of the Ukrainian city of Kiev, on September 29, 1941.
The two suspects were located by broadcaster ARD’s Politikmagazin Kontraste program, being aired Thursday night.
The two elderly men were both on a list of 80 former Einsatzgruppen members provided in late 2014 by Nazi hunters at the Wiesenthal Center to German authorities with the expectation that they could still be alive.
Suspect Kurt Gosdek, 94, told Kontraste in an interview earlier this month at his home in northwestern Germany that, although he was part of the unit in Ukraine in 1941, he had worked behind the lines repairing vehicles. He claimed to know nothing of any massacres.
‘When I was assigned to the workshop service it was relatively quiet, one had only one’s work,’ he said. ‘Not the shooting.’
Following the Einsatzgruppen massacres, the Nazis established death camps and in total killed some six million Jews as well as others. Gosdek said he was ‘surprised’ when he heard about the Holocaust after the war.
‘It’s simply unbelievable that something like that happened,’ he said.
Herbert Wahler, 95, confirmed that his name was on the Einsatzgruppen roster but refused other comment, according to transcripts of the interviews provided to The Associated Press.
Victims: The Einsatzgruppen are known to have rounded up and shot Jews in the opening salvo of the Holocaust before the Nazi concentration camp system was properly established
‘If you want to question me, then you’re out of luck,’ he said at his home in central Germany. ‘I also have nothing to hide and from me you won’t hear anything.’
Jens Rommel, head of the special German prosecutors’ office in Ludwigsburg that investigates Nazi crimes, confirmed that the Justice Ministry had forwarded them the Wiesenthal Center list.
He said it had been narrowed down to eight people thought to be still alive, including the two featured in Kontraste’s report and one other from Einsatzgruppe C, but prosecutors had not yet gathered enough evidence to recommend charges.
‘We need to at least confirm which time period someone was in a unit and which crimes committed by the unit they were part of,’ he told the AP.
Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center’s head Nazi hunter, questioned how much more evidence was necessary. He said a new precedent in German law means that suspects who helped the Nazi machinery of genocide function – like death camp guards – can be prosecuted as accessories to murder even if it can’t be proved they killed anybody themselves.
The Einsatzgruppen – made up of primarily SS and police personnel – followed Nazi Germany’s troops as they battled their way eastward in the early years of the war. Pictured, SS leader Heinrich Himmler inspects
‘Everyone who assisted in any way shape or form was responsible,’ he said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem. ‘Even if this guy was busy fixing cars, those cars took people to the sites to mass murder Jews… Bring these people to justice and put them on trial.’
Rommel said his office was moving ‘as quickly as possible’ on the Einsatzgruppen, but has also been focusing limited resources on guards at seven concentration camps, including Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Bergen-Belsen, where it was easier to prove that suspects were on hand at the time of specific killings.
He said he expected to hand as many as 30 cases to state prosecutors by year’s end with recommendations that the suspects be charged, but cautioned that because of their ages, the number could rapidly change.
‘Every year it’s more difficult because so many pass away,’ he said.