Thomas Walther (lawyer)

Last updated

Justice Thomas Walther (born 1943) is a lawyer based in Kempten, in the province of Bavaria in Germany. He is a former judge and German federal prosecutor for the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes. He is known as the "last of the Nazi hunters" for his work in setting legal precedent in seeking punishment for former SS officers and guards who were involved in the Holocaust, whether directly responsible for deaths or not. [1]

Contents

Walther speaks at the 2017 March of the Living ceremony Justice Thomas Walther speaks.jpg
Walther speaks at the 2017 March of the Living ceremony

His father Rudolph saved two Jewish families during the Kristallnacht anti-Jewish riots of 1938. "My father had quite a lot of Jewish friends in the '30s and he had hidden two families in our big garden during the Night of Broken Glass and they stayed there for some weeks until they had organized their escape to Australia and Paraguay." [2]

John Demanjuk case

After 23 years, he retired as a judge in 2006, joining the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes, setting out to change the precedent on prosecuting Nazi guards. After the war, it is estimated that between 7,000 to 8,000 SS guards served at Auschwitz. Before Walther became a Nazi hunter, only 48 were convicted. [2] In 2011, after standing trial for two years, German courts decided to convict John Demjanjuk without any direct evidence of murder –simply by being a guard who watched thousands march to their death made him complicit in the murder of 27,900 Dutch Jews at Sobibor. Demjanjuk, 91, was found guilty in May 2011 of helping to murder more than 28,000 Jews at Sobibor and sentenced to five years in prison. He was released pending an appeal and was moved to a nursing home. The two major contributions Walther helped bring into law were that a Nazi did not have to be directly involved to be guilty of aiding and abetting a murder during the Holocaust; and a Holocaust survivor who testifies in a German court does not have to directly identify the defendant. Walther took this opportunity to help find any remaining German citizens who were former Nazi SS guards. Given that his hunt for Nazis started almost 70 years after the Holocaust ended, many had passed away. He eventually located four former Nazi guards: Oskar Gröning, Reinhold Hanning, Hubert Zafke and Ernst Tremmel. [3] In April, Tremmel died just days before he was to go to trial at the age of 93, and Zafke's trial has been postponed indefinitely – he's been deemed unfit to stand trial due to his ill health. On June 15, 2015, Gröning, known as the "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz," became the 50th Nazi guard to be convicted since the war ended. The New York Times wrote, "Thomas Walther, a German lawyer who was the driving force behind the trial of Mr. Demjanjuk, represented Holocaust survivors as co-plaintiffs in the trials of Mr. Hanning and Mr. Gröning. He expressed frustration that Mr. Hanning never responded to his clients' pleas to recount his experience at Auschwitz so that present and future generations would know of it. But in a telephone interview on Thursday, Mr. Walther said that the clients he had contacted on hearing of Mr. Hanning's death insisted that the most important thing was that Mr. Hanning was brought to justice and that his deeds were recounted in court." [4] June 17, 2016 Hanning was convicted for the crimes he committed at Auschwitz, and Walther helped bring the 51st Nazi guard to justice following the war. Hanning's trial has been dubbed by many as the "Last of the Nazi trials."

Gröning trial

Gröning worked as an accountant at Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland, sorting and counting the money taken from those killed or used as slave labour, and sending it back to his Nazi superiors in Berlin. The court in the northern city of Lüneburg acknowledged that he had only been a "cog in the wheel" at the camp but that it had taken thousands of such people to keep running "a machinery designed entirely for the killing" of human beings. Presiding judge Franz Kompisch called it "scandalous" that it had taken so long for the German justice system to prosecute such cases. [5]

Legacy

Rafi Yablonsky of Jewish National Fund Toronto said: "When we write these final chapters on the Holocaust, Thomas Walther, the last of the Nazi hunters, should not just be included – he should be recognized as a post-Holocaust member of the "Righteous Among the Nations." [6]

At the 2017 March of the Living ceremony, Walther said, "Shalom. I have worked for quite a long time to change the law practice in Germany [regarding] accessory to murder in places just like Auschwitz… I did it for the survivors, I did it for the victims and I did it for the children of the victims. And I did it as well for the future… And the future is with me here, the young generation….They are my hope - they are also my future and your future, and your hope. To life!" [7]

Related Research Articles

John Demjanjuk Ukrainian guard at Nazi death camps

John Demjanjuk was a Ukrainian-American accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out while serving as a guard at Nazi extermination camps during World War II. Legal cases concerning his participation in the Holocaust began during the 1970s and continued until his death in 2012. During that time, Demjanjuk's trials attracted global media attention.

Sobibor extermination camp German extermination camp located near Sobibór, Poland in World War II

Sobibor was a Nazi German extermination camp built and operated by the SS as part of Operation Reinhard. It was located in the forest next to the railway station of Sobibór within the semi-colonial territory of the General Government in occupied Poland.

Operation Last Chance was launched July 2002 by the Simon Wiesenthal Center with its mission statement being to track down ex-Nazis still in hiding. Most of them were nearing the end of their lifetimes, hence the operation's name. Efraim Zuroff is director of the Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem who serves as the Israeli liaison as well as overseer of this project, the focus of which is investigation, prosecution, and conviction of the last remaining Nazi war criminals and collaborators. Many have obtained citizenship in Canada and the United States under false pretences; usually by misrepresentation, omission, or falsification of their criminal past, specifically war crimes which rose to the level of crimes against humanity.

Kapo (concentration camp) prisoner functionary in Nazi concentration camp

A kapo or prisoner functionary was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp who was assigned by the SS guards to supervise forced labor or carry out administrative tasks.

Alexander Pechersky Soviet Army captain

Alexander 'Sasha' Pechersky was one of the organizers, and the leader, of the most successful uprising and mass-escape of Jews from a Nazi extermination camp during World War II; which occurred at the Sobibor extermination camp on 14 October 1943.

Oskar Gröning was a German SS Unterscharführer who was stationed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. His responsibilities included counting and sorting the money taken from prisoners, and he was in charge of the personal property of arriving prisoners. On a few occasions he witnessed the procedures of mass killing in the camp. After being transferred from Auschwitz to a combat unit in October 1944, Gröning surrendered to the British at the end of the war; his role in the SS was not discovered. He was eventually transferred to Britain as a prisoner of war and worked as a farm labourer.

Treblinka trials

The two Treblinka trials concerning the Treblinka extermination camp personnel began in 1964. Held at Düsseldorf in West Germany, they were the two judicial trials in a series of similar war crime trials held during the early 1960s, such as the Jerusalem Adolf Eichmann trial (1961) and the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials (1963–65), as a result of which the general public came to realize the extent of the crimes that some two decades earlier had been perpetrated in occupied Poland by Nazi bureaucrats and their willing executioners. In the subsequent years, separate trials dealt with personnel of the Bełżec (1963–65), Sobibor (1966), and Majdanek (1975–81) extermination camps.

Dov Freiberg Polish holocaust survivor, writer

Dov Freiberg born Berek Freiberg, was a Holocaust survivor, writer, and witness at the Eichmann trial and the Demjanjuk case. During World War II, selected by the SS to join the Sonderkommando work unit, Freiberg participated in the Sobibor prisoners' revolt in October 1943, and managed to escape into nearby woods and survived until the Soviet Army liberated the region in July 1944.

Sobibor trial

The Sobibor trial was a judicial trial directly concerning the Sobibor extermination camp personnel. The trial was held in 1965–66 in Hagen, West Germany. It was one of a series of similar war crime trials held during the early 1960s, such as the Jerusalem Adolf Eichmann trial of 1961 and the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials of 1963–65, as a result of which the general public came to realize the extent of the crimes that some twenty years earlier had been perpetrated in occupied Poland by Nazi bureaucrats and their executioners. In the same and in subsequent years, separate trials dealt with personnel of the Belzec (1963–65), Treblinka (1964–65), and Majdanek (1975–81) extermination camps.

Allan A. Ryan (Jr.) is an American attorney, author and university and law school professor. He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and graduated from Dartmouth College and magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School. He served as a law clerk to Justice Byron White of the Supreme Court of the United States and as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps. In the U.S. Justice Department, he was Assistant to the Solicitor General and from 1980 to 1983 Director of the Office of Special Investigations, Criminal Division, responsible for the investigation and prosecution of Nazi war criminals in the United States. Since 1985, he has been an attorney at Harvard University, first in the Office of General Counsel and since 2001 as Director of Intellectual Property, Harvard Business School Publishing.

Ivan the Terrible is the nickname given to a notorious guard at the Treblinka extermination camp during the Holocaust, identified as Ivan Marchenko in statements made by other guards. The moniker alluded to Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible, the infamous Tsar of Russia. "Ivan the Terrible" gained international recognition following the 1986 John Demjanjuk case. Already in 1944 a cruel guard named "Ivan", sharing the distinct duties and the extremely violent behavior with a guard named "Nicholas", is mentioned in survivor literature. John Demjanjuk was accused first of being Ivan the Terrible at the Treblinka concentration camp. He was found guilty of war crimes and was sentenced to death by hanging. This decision was later overruled by the Supreme Court of Israel. In 2011 Demjanjuk was convicted of war crimes for having served at Sobibor extermination camp.

Belzec trial war crimes trial

The Belzec trial in the mid-1960s was a war crimes trial of eight former SS members of Bełżec extermination camp. The trial was held at the 1st Munich District Court and should be seen in the context of the Sobibor trial, which followed the Belzec trial, because five of the defendants were accused in both trials. In addition, the Belzec and Sobibor trials, along with the Treblinka trials, form a body of evidence of the crimes of mass extermination as part of the so-called Action Reinhardt programme - the killing of over two million Jews and 50,000 Roma and Sinti. These trials are directly related to the mass murder of 100,000 people in the official Nazi Euthanasia programme known after the war as Action T4, as many of the security guards worked in the euthanasia centres before transferring to the extermination camps. The first Euthanasia trials were carried out shortly after the war.

Trawniki men

Trawniki men were Central and Eastern European collaborators recruited from prisoner-of-war camps set up by Nazi Germany for Soviet Red Army soldiers captured in the border regions during Operation Barbarossa launched in June 1941. Thousands of these volunteers served in the General Government territory of German-occupied Poland until the end of World War II. Trawnikis belonged to a category of Hiwis, Nazi auxiliary forces recruited from native subjects.

Reinhold Hanning was an SS guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp in occupied Poland.

Philip Bialowitz Polish-American Holocaust survivor and resistance fighter

Philip Bialowitz was a Polish Holocaust survivor and resistance fighter. He was the last Polish Jewish survivor of the Sobibor extermination camp.

Max Eisen is an author, public speaker and Holocaust educator. He travels throughout Canada giving talks about his experiences as a concentration camp survivor, to students, teachers, universities, law enforcement personnel, and the community at large. He has worked with the March of the Living, the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI).

Hubert Zafke was a Nazi S.S. medic who served in several concentration camps during the second world war. After serving 3 years in prison following the war, Zafke settled in Gnevkow, Germany where he married and raised four sons and worked in an agricultural company. However, 71 years after the end of the war, following preliminary investigations by the central office for the investigation of Nazi crimes Zafke stood trial for 3861 counts of accessory to murder. After a lengthy trial delayed multiple times by Zafke's failing health, the trial was dropped as Zafke was found to be unfit for trial.

The Devil Next Door is a documentary series about John Demjanjuk, a suspected Nazi extermination camp guard known as "Ivan the Terrible", who spent years living in Cleveland. The show premiered on Netflix in 2019.

References

  1. Keefe, Stephen. "A Conversation With 71-Year-Old 'Nazi Hunter' Thomas Walther". Vice. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  2. 1 2 Mandel, Michele (16 June 2016). "Last Nazi Trial: The last of the Nazi hunters". Toronto Sun.
  3. Kopf, Shula (29 March 2012). "LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE". Jerusalem Post.
  4. Smale, Alison (2 June 2017). "Reinhold Hanning, Former Auschwitz Guard Convicted a Year Ago, Dies at 95". New York Times.
  5. "Germany indicts 92-year-old former Auschwitz guard". iTV News.
  6. Yablonsky, Rafi. "LAST OF THE NAZI HUNTERS SHOULD BE RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS". Canadian Jewish News. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  7. "Candle Lighting - Justice Thomas Walther". YouTube. Jewish Remembrance. Retrieved 3 May 2017.