Thomas Walther (lawyer)

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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]

Kempten Place in Bavaria, Germany

Kempten is the largest town of Allgäu, in Swabia, Bavaria, Germany. The population was about 68,000 in 2016. The area was possibly settled originally by Celts, but was later taken over by the Romans, who called the town Cambodunum. Kempten is the oldest urban settlement (town) in Germany.

Bavaria State in Germany

Bavaria, officially the Free State of Bavaria, is a landlocked federal state of Germany, occupying its southeastern corner. With an area of 70,550.19 square kilometres, Bavaria is the largest German state by land area. Its territory comprises roughly a fifth of the total land area of Germany. With 13 million inhabitants, it is Germany's second-most-populous state after North Rhine-Westphalia. Bavaria's capital and largest city, Munich, is the third-largest city in Germany.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Contents

Justice Thomas Walther speaks at the 2017 March of the Living ceremony (photo credit: Eli Rubenstein) Justice Thomas Walther speaks.jpg
Justice Thomas Walther speaks at the 2017 March of the Living ceremony (photo credit: Eli Rubenstein)
Justice Thomas Walther speaking at Congregation Habonim (photo credit: Silvio Mungula) Justice Thomas Walther.jpg
Justice Thomas Walther speaking at Congregation Habonim (photo credit: Silvio Mungula)
Thomas Walther Max Eisen and Eli Rubenstein at congregation Habonim (photo credit: Silvio Munguia) Thomas Walter Max Eisen and Eli Rubenstein.jpg
Thomas Walther Max Eisen and Eli Rubenstein at congregation Habonim (photo credit: Silvio Munguia)

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]

<i>Kristallnacht</i> Pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938

Kristallnacht or Reichskristallnacht, also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, Reichspogromnacht[ˌʁaɪçs.poˈɡʁoːmnaχt] or simply Pogromnacht[poˈɡʁoːmnaχt](listen), and Novemberpogrome[noˈvɛmbɐpoɡʁoːmə](listen), was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and civilians. The German authorities looked on without intervening. The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues were smashed.

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.”

John Demjanjuk Soviet soldier accused of World War II war crimes and retired auto worker

John Demjanjuk was a retired Ukrainian-American auto worker, a former soldier in the Soviet Red Army, and a POW during the Second World War.

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 was captured by the British on 10 June 1945 when his unit surrendered, although 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 alongside his fellow Germans.

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

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]

Occupation of Poland (1939–1945) occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during the Second World War (1939–1945)

The occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during the Second World War (1939–1945) began with the German-Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939, and it was formally concluded with the defeat of Germany by the Allies in May 1945. Throughout the entire course of the foreign occupation, the territory of Poland was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union (USSR) with the intention of eradicating Polish culture and subjugating its people by occupying German and Soviet powers. In summer-autumn of 1941 the lands annexed by the Soviets were overrun by Germany in the course of the initially successful German attack on the USSR. After a few years of fighting, the Red Army drove the German forces out of the USSR and across Poland from the rest of Central and Eastern Europe.

Lüneburg Place in Lower Saxony, Germany

Lüneburg, also called Lunenburg in English, is a town in the German state of Lower Saxony. It is located about 50 km (31 mi) southeast of another Hanseatic city, Hamburg, and belongs to that city's wider metropolitan region. The capital of the district which bears its name, it is home to roughly 77,000 people. Lüneburg's urban area, which includes the surrounding communities of Adendorf, Bardowick, Barendorf and Reppenstedt, has a population of around 103,000. Lüneburg has been allowed to use the title "Hansestadt" in its name since 2007, in recognition of its membership in the former Hanseatic League. Lüneburg is also home to Leuphana University.

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]

Jewish National Fund voluntary association

The Jewish National Fund was founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine for Jewish settlement. The JNF is a non-profit organization. By 2007, it owned 13% of the total land in Israel. Since its inception, the JNF says it has planted over 240 million trees in Israel. It has also built 180 dams and reservoirs, developed 250,000 acres (1,000 km2) of land and established more than 1,000 parks.

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]

March of the Living annual educational program which brings students from around the world to Poland

The March of the Living is an annual educational program which brings students from around the world to Poland, where they explore the remnants of the Holocaust. On Holocaust Memorial Day observed in the Jewish calendar, thousands of participants march silently from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp complex built during World War II.

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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.