Most Nazis escaped justice. Now Germany is racing to convict those who got away
Johann Rehbogen still remembers the lentil stew he ate with other military recruits as they traveled crammed into cattle cars to join the German Wehrmacht in 1942. He recalls the movie screened at the SS training camp: “Quax the Crash Pilot,” a comedy. He also remembers seeing prisoners for the first time.
“They had on prison uniforms and they looked truly miserable. This was a big shock for me,” recalled the 94-year-old, who is currently on trial for his role as an SS guard at the Stutthof concentration camp in what was then German-occupied Poland.
“The Wehrmacht officers were eloquent,” said Rehbogen in a rare testimony read out in court by his lawyer last month. “They seemed downright heroic to us. But when I saw the prisoners, it was clear that this picture the Wehrmacht was trying to convey, was wrong.”
Rehbogen is accused of being an accessory to the murder of hundreds, and is one of five defendants now in court, with another 20 still under investigation, according to Germany’s Federal Authority for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes. He is being tried as a juvenile because he was under 21 at the time of the alleged crimes.
Rehbogen has denied knowledge of a deliberate killing campaign.
The country is now racing against time to bring the last surviving perpetrators of Nazi war crimes — now well into old age — to justice.
But for many survivors it is too little, too late.
‘Tiny percentage’ of Nazis brought to justice
The number of suspects that have been brought to trial is a tiny percentage of the more than 200,000 perpetrators of Nazi-era crimes, said Mary Fulbrook, a professor of Germany History at University College London.
“It’s way too late,” she told CNN of the latest trials. “The vast majority of perpetrators got away with it.”