The triumphs and frustrations of the final push by the Simon Wiesenthal Center — called Operation Last Chance — to capture the last living (and suspected to be living) WWII Nazis is chronicled in chief Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff’s new book Operation Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice.

Efraim Zuroff

The most wanted Nazi is former SS doctor Aribert Heim, to whom the author devotes a chapter. Heim was described in a 2008 AP article as

so brutal that witnesses remember him as the worst they saw, though he was only at Mauthausen concentration camp for two months.

Karl Lotter, a prisoner who worked in the hospital at Mauthausen concentration camp, had no trouble remembering the first time he watched Heim kill a man.

It was 1941, and an 18-year-old Jew had been sent to the clinic with a foot inflammation. Heim asked him about himself and why he was so fit. The young man said he had been a soccer player and swimmer.

Then, instead of treating the prisoner’s foot, Heim anesthetized him, cut him open, castrated him, took apart one kidney and removed the second, Lotter said. The victim’s head was removed and the flesh boiled off so that Heim could keep it on display.

“He needed the head because of its perfect teeth,” Lotter, a non-Jewish political prisoner, recalled….

Two of the Top 10 Most Wanted are wanted for crimes committed in Yugoslavia, and yet despite the Nazi-hunter’s best efforts, the WWII history of Yugoslavia remains largely hidden from public view (including at Holocaust museums). One of these two criminals is a Croatian named Milivoj Asner, who made top headlines in 2008 when he was observed by a British reporter taking in the Euro 2008 soccer championships in Austria. The UK Sun’s Brian Flynn of the UK Sun described the scene:

We find wanted Nazi at footie

MINGLING with football fans in a pavement café, an elderly gentleman soaks up the atmosphere of Euro 2008.

[Milivoj] Asner, who lives under an assumed name in Croatia’s European Championships base of Klagenfurt, is the subject of an international arrest warrant and on Interpol’s Most Wanted list.

The Sun tracked down the 95-year-old former police chief and Gestapo agent and secretly filmed him as he strolled confidently for more than a mile, arm-in-arm with second wife Edeltraut.

Walking without a stick, he even roamed 8th May Street - named after VE Day.

He stopped several times to sit in cafés, chatting to waiters and sipping leisurely drinks alongside excited football fans.

He was ignored by hundreds of armed police patrolling the streets, even though locals KNOW his real identity - and the unspeakable crimes for which he has yet to face justice.

The scenes made a mockery of Austria’s insistence that Asner is too sick to be sent home.

[Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre] director Dr Efraim Zuroff said: “He is clearly enjoying a life that many hundreds of victims were denied when they were sent off to be murdered…Austria has long had a reputation as a paradise for war criminals and now they’ve been caught in the act…If this man is well enough to walk around town unaided and drink wine in bars, he’s well enough to answer for his past. He’s shown absolutely no remorse…”

Asner fled his homeland after the war and has been living in Klagenfurt since 2006. He was indicted a year earlier in Croatia for crimes committed when he was a Ustashi police chief under the country’s Second World War fascist puppet regime.

An Interpol arrest warrant was issued with the highest priority and his photo and personal details are listed on its Most Wanted website. Anyone knowing his whereabouts is urged to call police.

The Sun traced Asner, whose first wife faked his death, to his smart third-floor flat near Klagenfurt’s stadium. The home, where he lives under the name Dr Georg Aschner, is opposite the Croatian cultural centre in a district where fellow ex-pats know his true identity. [We know about Croatian cultural centers.]

One worker boasted how “an SS man” lived opposite…[Another] source said: “He’s fiercely patriotic and nationalistic, and there’s no doubt he’ll want Croatia to win. He may be old but his views haven’t changed - he wants them to win at everything.”

Officials originally ruled Asner could not be sent to Croatia because he was an Austrian citizen. In September 2005, they admitted he was NOT.

But they stalled again, claiming he was too ill for trial. [And to not prosecute him itself, Austria used its charming “statute of limitations” on Nazi war crimes.] […]

In a subsequent piece the reporter interviewed one of Asner’s surviving victims:

AN 88-year-old man told last night how he was tortured on the orders of sadist Milivoj Asner. Dusan Janosevic said he was beaten with a rope until he bled every day for six months in Asner’s jail. And he said other prisoners including Jews and priests were executed in a nearby forest every night…Police chief Asner would stride around with a whip as he masterminded the torture regime, Dusan said. The pensioner, who still lives in Pozega, Croatia, was arrested in 1941 because he was a minority Serb. Guards tried to force him to falsely confess he was a Communist.

“All night you could hear people being tortured and crying out. They had a bucket of water and soaked the ropes overnight ready to give us a beating every morning for breakfast.”

Dusan said relatives were ordered to bring food for starving prisoners, who then watched as guards ate it. […]

Flynn also described meeting Asner in his flat:

…Well-spoken, studiously polite and unruffled despite being confronted unexpectedly by a foreign reporter, he exuded the confidence of a man who seemed to believe he was untouchable.

The history books describe how Pozega’s entire Jewish community was wiped out in World War II – sent to the evil Jasenovac concentration camp where 700,000 were exterminated.

Asner is alleged to have overseen the deportation from Croatia of hundreds of Jews, Serbs and gypsies to concentration camps – signing the necessary forms [and to have stood by in Pozega as Ustashi fascists burned the synagogue.]

Yet despite archive documents pin-pointing his role, he insisted he had never been a police chief there. And he claimed his signature must be fake. Astonishingly, Asner also denied ANY Jews were deported to death camps from his home town.

Laughing again, he said: “I don’t know of anyone deported from Pozega. Nobody was murdered. I never heard of one single family murdered in Pozega.”

Asner admitted he supported the Ustashi fascists, but claimed he was never a member. He said: “I was not with them but, as a Croatian, I respected that they restored order. […]

The upshot: Nazi Nailed:

…The dossier shows how wartime monster Milivoj Asner wielded fearsome police powers over helpless citizens and sealed their fates with his signature.

He insisted he was just a minor civil servant in the Second World War and that he “never did anything bad against anybody”.

The document APPOINTING him officially head of the police on May 15, 1941 is held in Croatian government archives.

Another paper dated October 18, 1941 was personally signed by Asner AUTHORISING the eviction of 63 Jewish families who were then exterminated.

It ordered the seizure of their homes and estimated the values of the properties, with Asner declaring: “I forbid the below-citated persons to reside in the flats they have owned till now.”

Another document shows Asner REFUSING to save Jula Klein, born in his own town, from Nazis in Austria just because she was a Jewess. […]

At the height of the Asner news, Austria’s most famous politician, the would-be Nazi Joerg Haider — who seems to know this resident of his province rather well for some reason — came to Asner’s defense:

…Haider, who brought the Freedom Party into Austria’s coalition government in 2000 on a platform tinged with anti-Semitic and xenophobic undertones, is the governor of the province of Carinthia where Asner lives.

“He’s lived peacefully among us for years, and he should be able to live out the twilight of his life with us,” Haider told the newspaper Der Standard this week. “This is a nice family. We really treasure this family,” he was quoted as saying. […]”

Subsequently, the nonagenarian Croatian Nazi admitted that he deported some folks, but just those who weren’t “loyal” to the Hitler-bequeathed Independent State of Croatia. (Of course, in Croatia — both then and now — not being Croatian constitutes disloyalty.) From a Reuters item:

A Croatian World War Two war crimes suspect said in a television interview he had ordered deportations of Jews and Serbs during World War Two, but only to their homelands and not to death camps in Croatia.

“Nothing ever happened to whoever was a loyal citizen of the Croatian state. For others, my theory was: You are not a Croat, you hate Croatia, okay, then please go back to your homeland,” 95-year-old Milivoj Asner told Croatian state television in an interview at his home in Klagenfurt, Austria.

Klagenfurt prosecutors had assessed Asner’s health again…and found him unfit for questioning.

The Croatian television reporter who conducted the interview said Asner appeared senile and was only temporarily lucid. […]

A non-Croatian reporter got an entirely different impression of the man, as Zuroff explained: “We suspected from the very beginning that he might have been faking it — making a specific effort to appear as unfit as possible,” Zuroff said. “That might be easier to fake than physical issues.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has singled out Austria in its annual status reports and gave it an “F” in the 2005-06 cycle, defined as “those countries which refuse in principle to investigate, let alone prosecute, suspected Nazi war criminals.”

According to the report from those years, Austria is one of the countries whose statistics are extremely misleading:

Thus, although in recent years Austria has comparatively high figures for the number of cases being investigated, they have not resulted in a single indictment, let alone conviction. In fact, during the past three decades, Austria has failed to convict a single Nazi war criminal…[T]he relatively high number of ongoing cases currently being examined in Vienna is primarily an indication of intensified research by the Wiesenthal Center, rather than a manifestation of newly-found political will in Vienna to hold Nazi war criminals accountable.

Another case which underscores the lack of willingness to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice is that of former Majdanek guard Erna Wallisch currently residing in Vienna, who was exposed by the Wiesenthal Center’s “Operation: Last Chance” project. Although Wallisch admitted taking camp inmates to be gassed and preventing them from escaping death, Austrian prosecutors categorized her crimes as “passive participation” in genocide, thereby preventing her prosecution due to the existent statute of limitations. In this regard, it is illuminating to compare the legal situation in Austria with that of Germany, where there is no statue of limitations on the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.

Another related issue…was a request by the Wiesenthal Center that the Austrian government match or supplement the financial reward being offered by the German police for information leading to the arrest of escaped Nazi war criminal Dr. Aribert Heim. (Heim was born and educted in Austria.) Despite assurance by the Austrian ministers of justice (Gastinger) and the interior (Prokop) that such a step was possible and would be viewed favorably by the government, it has never been approved.

The other top Nazi wanted for crimes in Yugoslavia is Sandor Kepiro, “The Suspected Nazi Who Lives Opposite Synagogue,” as his chapter is called. Kepiro twice had been convicted for the 1942 Novi Sad massacre, in which 1,200 Serbs and Jews were killed. He was given a 10-year sentence by Hungary in 1944, but it was never enforced, as this 2007 AP report explains:

…The Union of Jewish Communities in Serbia said it could offer several witnesses and wartime documents of the 1942 massacre of some 800 Jews and 400 Serbs in Novi Sad, north of Belgrade, allegedly conducted by Hungarian Nazi troops which controlled the area at the time.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Nazi hunters said in a statement that one of those responsible was Hungarian citizen Sandor Kepiro, now 93. Kepiro, who was a gendarmerie lieutenant in Novi Sad at the time, emigrated to Argentina after the war but returned to Hungary in 1996.

Hungarian prosecutors recently opened an investigation into Kepiro following demands by the Wiesenthal Center and after researchers in Belgrade found a copy of a 1944 Hungarian court verdict that found him guilty of disloyalty to Hungary.

Last month, the Budapest Municipal Court said the 1944 ruling sentencing Kepiro to 10 years in prison could not be enforced because a retrial shortly afterward annulled the sentence.

Kepiro has denied the accusations, saying he was a scapegoat in a show trial.

In its 2007-2008 report, the Wiesenthal Center downgraded Hungary to an F-2, the worst-possible grade. Joining it was Australia, with Lithuania not far behind, as this Dec. 2008 article reports:

Australia, Hungary and Lithuania are failing to investigate and prosecute suspected Nazi war criminals largely due to a lack of political will, the Simon Wiesenthal Center said Thursday.

The Nazi-hunting group said the same holds true for Croatia, Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine, adding all countries in question face no legal obstacles in bringing suspects to justice.

The findings were published in the center’s annual report, which graded the investigation and prosecution efforts of countries around the world between April 2007 and March 2008.

Australia was given the worst possible mark — an “F-2″– for its continued failure to extradite Nazi collaborator Charles Zentai, an Australian citizen accused of killing a Jewish teenager in Hungary during World War II.

The report said Australia admitted at least several hundred Nazi war criminals and collaborators but has failed to take successful legal action against a single one.

Lithuania, meanwhile, got a failing grade for its refusal to jail Algimantas Dailide, convicted in 2006 of helping round up Jews for Nazis as an officer in the Vilnius security police. He was sentenced to five years in jail, but the judge ruled he was too frail to serve the sentence. The center said that reflected Lithuania’s resistance to acknowledging “the extensive scope of local complicity in the crimes of the Holocaust.”

The report also criticized Norway, Sweden and Syria, saying all three countries refuse in principle to investigate and prosecute suspected Nazi war criminals because of legal or ideological restrictions. […]

One could certainly understand how it might seem superfluous to the likes of Austria, Hungary, Lithuania, Croatia, Syria, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine and others to put old Nazis on trial for the Holocaust when a whole fleet of new ones has already been groomed to commit the next one, with their help.

In Chapter 11 we learn that in Latvia a wanted Nazi is a contemporary hero, and a chapter on Estonia is titled “The Best Justice Money Can Buy.” Chapter 13 chronicles Zuroff’s efforts to get Croatia to confront its bloody past and to prosecute its notorious Dinko Šakic. The Wiesenthal Center got Croatia to convict the Nazi in 1998, which Zuroff considers democratic Croatia’s greatest achievement, but he found that Croatia wasn’t quite as proud of the accomplishment, for not a single perpetrator was mentioned by name at the glossy new Holocaust memorial at Jasenovac. That’s because Croatia’s Nazis remain heroes, and are openly celebrated by Croatians worldwide. Indeed, no one suffered a timely reprimand by Croatian authorities for organizing Sakic’s 2008 funeral ceremony, for which Sakic was dressed in full Nazi regalia and a Croatian Catholic priest offficiated.

Croatia’s mainstream Nazi sympathizers of today, showing their reverence

Lithuania gets its own chapter, titled “Lithuania: A Struggle for Justice and Truth in the Land of my Forefathers.” Four of Zuroff’s family members were murdered in Lithuania between 1941 and 1944, and the book is dedicated to their memories, along with Simon Wiesenthal’s. In little-noted but shocking 2008 news, Lithuania was actually seeking to prosecute Jewish partisans for war crimes against Nazis. The SWC in Los Angeles issued the following statement in early November, 2008:


…Now, 70 years later, the Holocaust is being distorted and trivialized in places around the world including Lithuania where a shocking 96.4% of Lithuania ’s Jewish citizens were murdered by the Nazis and local collaborators.

To this day, not a single Lithuanian has ever been punished in independent Lithuania for Holocaust crimes and every effort has been made to prevent such criminals from facing prosecution.

Instead - as unbelievable as it may sound - Lithuanian prosecutors, urged on by an anti-Semitic press, have sought to indict for “war crimes,” heroic World War II-era Jewish partisans for their anti-Nazi resistance! Chief among them, Dr. Yitzhak Arad, the former chairman of Yad Vashem and a renowned Holocaust scholar. In 2008, authorities are targeting 3 women, fellow Jewish anti-Nazi partisans Dr. Rochel Margolis, Professor Sara Ginaite, and Fania Brantsovsky, pictured left with SWC International Relations Director, Dr. Shimon Samuels.

This must not continue. Join the Wiesenthal Center’s campaign to Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus demanding that:

•the campaign against Jewish anti-Nazi partisans be immediately stopped and that a public apology is made to those already made to suffer

•the full scope of Lithuanians’ participation in the murder of Jews in the country and elsewhere during the Holocaust be acknowledged and taught to younger generations

•the Lithuanian government implement the prison sentence against convicted Nazi war criminal Algimantas Dailide

And so here we are. While 90-year-old Nazis are still running around and living across from synagogues, or playing dead; while 80-year-old Holocaust siblings are still only now being reunited; and while WWII mass graves are still turning up in the Ukraine, the previously untouchable survivor Elie Wiesel has already been attacked and the groundwork for the next great Jew-purge is already laid. Meanwhile, Eastern European countries that so enthusiastically participated last time and have yet to acknowlege the full extent of their collaboration are looking to punish those they persecuted, for fighting back.

Reminding us why a book like Operation Last Chance is so needed. At the same time, it takes readers on a wild ride in the rare shoes of a real-life Nazi-hunter.