Nazi war criminal sentenced

Former SS officer Julius Viel has been found guilty by a German court and sentenced to 12 years in prison for shooting dead 7 Jewish prisoners from the Terezin concentration camp in March 1945. 56 years have passed since the event, Viel is now 83 years old, and some people ask whether there is any sense in punishing such an old man after more than half a century. According to the German media this is the last Nazi war crime trial.

"For sure not. There is one which is still open, and this is the case of Anton Mallot, who is more or less similar. He was also from Terezin and he was now, in his late 80s, accused of committing war crimes. So this is still not finished."

Why has it taken all these years?

"This is a very complex issue. It's not only the case of war criminals, it's also the cases of compensation, albeit the Holocaust Nazi victims, or the victims of slave labor, forced labor - it has something to do with the fall of the iron curtain, and also it has to do with opening the classified files, which contained much of secret from World War II and it was only now possible to open them and to find out some new facts. This is why it has been so late and it took more than fifty years to close the chapter, though I cannot say it is closed completely."

But the longer after the deed, the less simple it is to prove it.

"I think this is not the question of timing. That's always the case, because those people would always be trying to escape justice. But what is the strong message here is that albeit 56 years after the crime was committed, justice won. I think it is a very strong message not only to Nazi criminals, it's a strong message to all war criminals, even the contemporary."

80,000 Jews from the Czech Lands perished in the Holocaust. Of the 30,000 who survived, 700 still live in the Czech Republic today. One of them is Mrs. Zuzana Podmelova.

"I spent two years in Terezienstatt and neither my parents, nor my husband, nobody of my family survived. And I don't think that punishment can make up for what we had to suffer. At least this is a form of justice, because I'm sure that what happened shouldn't remain unpunished."

Nor should it be forgotten. Trials with war criminals are just one aspect of this process, says Dr. Kraus.

"There is also the role of the educational system which should be stressed more. And we are quite optimistic in this sense, because we were able, we as the Jewish Federation, together with the Memorial Terezin and with the Ministry of Education, we were able to launch education on the Holocaust and on the Second World War, which is now being produced by teaching the teachers and there is much interest. Terezin is offering a series of seminars and lectures for teachers who are in the subject of contemporary history and those people are the ones who should carry on the message and who would be very well educated in the whole issue."

Author: Olga Szantová
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