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Hunt for Nazi war criminals launched

BERLIN -- The Simon Wiesenthal Center launched an 11th-hour drive Wednesday to find and prosecute Nazi war criminals while they are still alive, saying a new legal precedent in Germany could make it possible to bring dozens of suspects to trial.

Efraim Zuroff, the center's top Nazi-hunter, said "Operation Last Chance II" would provide up to $32,900 in reward money for information that leads to the investigation and prosecution of war criminals. "Whatever can be done has to be done very promptly and as quickly as possible because time is running out," he said.

The effort comes after German prosecutors said in October the successful conviction of former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk had set a precedent that allowed them to reopen hundreds of dormant investigations.

Demjanjuk, 91, was convicted in May of thousands of counts of accessory to murder after a Munich court found he served as a death camp guard -- the first time a suspect had been found guilty without evidence of a specific crime. The court ruled that any guard at a Nazi camp whose sole purpose was to kill people could be convicted of accessory to murder.

Demjanjuk denies having served as a guard and is appealing the verdict.

About 4,000 people were either guards at the four Nazi camps used only for killings -- Belzec, Sobibor, Chelmno and Treblinka -- or members of the Einsatzgruppen death squads responsible for mass killings, particularly early in the war before the death camps were established.

Zuroff said he did not know how many were still alive -- the youngest would now be in their 80s -- but that he guessed conservatively there could be 80 or more. -- AP

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