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Jens Rommel

Jens Rommel, a German lawyer and prosecutor who heads the Central Office of the National Judicial Authorities for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in Ludwigsburg since October 2015, on Wednesday told Deutsche Welle it would be “difficult” to prosecute 95-year-old Jakiv Palij, the former Nazi concentration camp guard who was deported to Germany from the United States.

The US had been trying to deport Palij since 2005, and for those 14 years, the Germans rejected Washington’s attempts because he wasn’t a German citizen. Deutsche Welle asked Rommel why the sudden change of heart.

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Rommel explained that “from the law enforcement point of view, I can only say that the transfer is not taking place at the request of the German judiciary. So there was no German arrest warrant requesting extradition; rather, it was a request on the part of the US government with which the German government has now complied.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who visited Auschwitz on the eve of Palij’s deportation this week, issued a statement saying the deportation “sends a clear signal of Germany’s moral responsibility.” But Rommel says he’s only interested in the law.

“As the Central Office, what we are concerned with is legal responsibility,” he told Deutsche Welle. “This means that our criteria are set down in the penal code: we have to prove that a person committed murder with his own hands, or facilitated murders committed by the Nazis by his actions or by his service. And these are the criteria we also have to apply in assessing this case.”

The difficulty in developing a case against Palij is not in a lack of evidence regarding the 1943 massacre of 6,000 Jewish inmates in the Trawniki concentration camp in Poland, but in determining the individual’s responsibility, according to Rommel.

“By what action, by carrying out what duty, by what function did the individual facilitate this murder? That’s what we have to prove,” he explained, suggesting that pinpointing the actions of this one individual guard in a camp that was a training grounds for mobile units, as was the case in Trawniki, is “extremely difficult. We don’t know exactly which unit the person in question was deployed with after being trained at the camp,” Rommel stated.

Rommel noted the huge difference between the US legal requirement for deportation, versus the German requirement for capital crime proceedings.

“For the Americans, it’s enough that he lied on his application for naturalization — about his membership in the SS, assisting the SS — but for us that will not be sufficient to instigate criminal proceedings for murder,” Rommel explained, adding, “That, of course, is an awkward situation.”

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