A 90-year-old Danish man believed to have taken part in the murder of Jews at a prison camp in Belarus during World War II should be held accountable for his crimes, a well-known ‘Nazi hunter' from the Simon Wiesenthal Center told Danish media over the weekend.
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office, will arrive in Copenhagen on Monday with the intention of filing criminal charges against a man that he says was a member of the 800-man corps of Danish Nazis known as Free Corps Denmark (Frikorps Danmark).
“Since the Danish Justice Ministry isn't going to do anything, I have decided to come to Copenhagen and personally file a police report that is based upon documentation and research. We hope it will result in a trial,” Zuroff told Berlingske.
“Danish historians' work has clearly demonstrated that Danes were involved in war crimes during World War II. When it was finally revealed, it should have immediately led to further investigation. But that unfortunately didn't happen,” he said.
In October 2014, a new book alleged that Danish Nazis actively participated in the murder of 1,400 Jews at a prison camp in Belarus during World War II.
“We have witness testimonies that show the Danish Nazis were deeply involved in genocide and a number of war crimes during their time on the Eastern Front,” Dennis Larsen, one of the co-authors of ‘En skole i vold' (A school of violence), told broadcaster DR following the book's release.
Larsen said that the Danes spent eight months between 1942 and 1943 in the Bobruisk concentration camp in Belarus, where at least 1,400 of the 1,500 Jews in the camp were killed while the Danes were there.
“The Danes were in the camp for eight months, and during that period there was daily culling of the Jews. Executions. The Danes were a part of this and the last Dane didn't leave the camp until shortly before it closed,” Larsen said.
Zuroff told Berlingske that the book's revelations were part of the reason he began corresponding with the Danish Justice Ministry in hopes of having any living Danes who remain from Free Corps Denmark prosecuted. The ministry, however, told Zuroff that it was up to Danish police to decided whether or not to pursue a case.
“I found that highly peculiar and therefore I decided to personally file a report with the Danish police,” he said.
Zuroff's group has been working since the late 1970s to highlight the atrocities of the holocaust and in 2002 it launched ‘Operation Last Chance – late but not too late' with the hope of bringing living Nazis to justice.
Just last week, a German court sentenced a 94-year-old former SS officer known as the Bookkeeper of Auschwitz to four years in jail in what is expected to be one of the last German trials of its kind.
Zuroff declined to detail his police report, but according to Berlingske the charges will be filed against 90-year-old Helmuth Leif Rasmussen, who has previously spoken about his time as a member of Free Corps Denmark. Faced with the news that a criminal case may be on its way, Rasmussen denied having been a guard at the Belarus prison camp.
“We were just recruits. We were there to be trained as soldiers and we didn't have anything to do with the rest,” he told Berlingske.
But in 1945, the then 20-year-old Rasmussen was questioned by police and admitted to having seen Jews executed while in the camp.
He told Berlingske on Saturday that he was “so old now” and had no reason to lie.
“I'll die a natural death soon; I'm 90 after all. I wish I would have never been a member of the corps but you can't turn back the hands of time,” he said.
If Zuroff and the Simon Wiesenthal Center succeed in initiating a criminal case, it will be the first of its kind in Denmark in 65 years.
Members of Free Corps Denmark reportedly took active took part in the killing of Jews. Photo: Weill/WikiCommons