Those Nazi concentration-camp guards who managed to avoid justice for their wartime crimes have something new to keep them awake at night.
Seventy years after thousands who served the Third Reich as prison guards in camps where millions were worked to death, gassed and incinerated in crematoria, German prosecutors are renewing their efforts to bring those still living to justice.
Their new tool? The same 3-D modeling that makes video games so realistic.
Although the identities of many who worked in the camps have long been known, they have avoided successful prosecution by claiming innocence or ignorance of the atrocities committed around them. Concentration camps were large-scale operations, and while many former Nazis admit they prepared meals or guarded gates at the facilities, they insist they never knew about the gas chambers.
That’s where the 3-D modeling comes in – recreating the scene of the crime.
“Many former guards say that they didn’t know anything because they couldn’t see from where they were serving,” Karl Dietrich, a German prosecutor who helped build the digital model, told the New York Times. “This allows us to go in and look at whether that is true. What could one see from a watchtower? Could you see the chimneys of the crematoria? Could you see smoke?”
In addition to the technological breakthrough, prosecutors are being aided by precedent set in the successful 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk, a former guard at the Sobibor death camp who spent years as an Ohio autoworker.
Prior to his case and since 1969, conviction required evidence linking suspects to specific killings. The Munich court overturned that precedent in the Demjanjuk case, convicting the former death-camp guard of accessory to the murder of all 28,060 people who died during the time he served there.
The head of the special German prosecutors’ office that investigates Nazi crimes said last August a probe of 50 suspected former Auschwitz guards was near completion and his office planned on recommending charges against most. Forty of the suspects were found to still be alive in Germany.
Using computer models to convict war criminals is still a novel idea.
“I have never heard of a three-dimensional virtual model being introduced in a trial,” James B. Jacobs, professor of criminal law and criminal procedure at New York University, told Popular Mechanics.
There is, however, legal precedent for using visual aids and even three-dimensional models in the courtroom. “The creator of the digital model would be cross-examined by the defense, just as any drawing, photo or three-dimensional construct would be cross-examined,” Jacobs said.
The advanced age of the often frail suspects – most now in their 90s – has evoked sympathy among some in Germany, raising questions of whether it is just to pursue prosecutions now. But the prevailing sentiment in the German news media and public discussions is that Nazi-era crimes are better pursued late than never, reported the New York Times.
Anita Dittman, herself a Holocaust survivor, would suggest pursuing justice for Nazi crimes serves another more urgent purpose as well – as a warning that the threat to liberty and humanity from dictatorial government is not a thing of the past. It is still with us.
Dittman, whose story is told in the WND project released Tuesday, “Trapped in Hitler’s Hell,” lived through Hitler’s rise to power, dictatorship and death.
She is now warning America that she sees today the same conditions she saw then.
Including a leader who lies, fails to keep his promises and has messianic visions of more than grandeur.
It’s all too familiar, said Dittman, a young girl in Germany when Hitler came to power. And she doesn’t need a 3-D model to make her point.
The film, produced by WND founder, Editor and CEO Joseph Farah and directed by WND Films Vice President George Escobar, and a companion book were released Tuesday.
It was the gushing adulation of Obama that really triggered her present-day nightmares, Dittman said.
And the fact that establishment media reporters didn’t question his qualifications or competencies, while conservative news outlets that investigated his birth certificate were openly mocked. Media also never asked him hard questions about his disturbing history of close associations with communists and terrorists that included Frank Marshall Davis, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, she said.
Obama’s empty rhetoric that energized his followers chilled Dittman, who compared it to lies peddled in Germany painting promises of a bright future.
“It’s a similar time,” Dittman said. “We are financially in a problematic time. So was Germany. Hitler came in, and he made himself the savior, and people ate it all up because he made it sound wonderful how he would straighten everything out … and that is happening today, too.”
Obama’s promises included no tax increases on the poor, a five-day waiting period to sign bills so people could read them and creation of the most open and transparent administration in history.
Instead, Obama’s scandal-riddled presidency has included rushed spending bills, increased taxes affecting all and an administration that strategized to sic the IRS and Department of Justice on conservative groups.
In Germany, Hitler focused on the people’s emotions, offering them promises of prosperity: good jobs for the many unemployed, a return to stability and security.
He held massive rallies, featuring marching bands and banners, all organized, orchestrated and broadcast to the masses, commanding audiences with appealing messages and empty promises.
“The only promise Hitler ever kept was killing the Jews,” Dittman said.
Hear some of Dittman’s comments:
During the 12 years Hitler was in power, Dittman suffered the kind of persecution she fears is in America’s future.
As a child, she was bullied by peers and teachers, publicly ostracized and condemned. She eventually was forced with her mother into the Jewish ghetto, where they lived in fear as they witnessed roundups, constantly battling starvation before and after being sent to a concentration camp.
Her story, as written by Markell and told in the WND documentary, portrays atrocities Dittman endured but leaves audiences uplifted, because of her constant focus on God and His amazing hand of protection over her.
“Anita has always been one who gives all the glory for her survival to the Lord,” Markell said. “And it was a daily survival, too, between 1933 and 1945. She had to call on God for supernatural wisdom (and) supernatural, just incredible, insight to escape, to survive. On and on and on, one scene after anther.”
She survived a Nazi nurse’s repeated diabolical attempts to kill her, was protected when forced out in the open during the bombing of Dresden, was provided protective “angels” in critically dangerous situations and, above all, given the grace to understand God’s wisdom in the verse she often quotes, Romans 8:28:
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”