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This man could be the world's last Nazi hunter

Jens Rommel has been at the forefront of the prosecution of remaining Nazi war criminals — but it's a dying industry.

by Andrew Potter
Aug 8 2018, 7:21pm

World War II ended seven decades ago, but the hunt for Nazi war criminals is still going strong.

The effort is headquartered out of a former women's prison in the German city of Ludwigsburg that now houses at least 1.7 million documents dating back to the 1930s. Those pages are crucial to Jens Rommel and his small team as they attempt to bring the last remaining Nazi war criminals to justice.

Rommel is the chief senior prosecutor at the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist [Nazi] Crimes. The office has been in operation since 1958, and three years ago Rommel took the helm.

He says time is running out for them to bring many more Nazi war criminals to justice.

"I think we have a few years left," he told VICE News. "But the youngest defendant is 91 years of age. And it’s getting more and more difficult to find someone still alive, and still fit enough to stand trial.”

Rommel says the office has been involved in 120,000 investigations, resulting in 6,000 verdicts, which he says is "a rather bad ratio."

But the search for former Nazis whose crimes took place more than 70 years ago is a frustrating endeavor, because it often comes to a literal dead end.

"Most of the defendants were dead at the time when we started out investigations but we [do] not know that," Rommel said.

When they do find an alleged Nazi war criminal still living, Rommel and his team prepare evidence, which is forwarded to a public prosecutor who decides if it is enough to launch a trial. And some cases deemed evidentiarily sufficient still fall through because defendants die before the trial begins, or they are deemed unfit to stand trial by doctors.

Still, four men are currently accused of being guards at concentration camps, one of whom is 99 years old.

"It was difficult for the German post-war society," said Rommel. "They decided that the most serious crimes like murder should be prosecuted. The consequence of this is that nobody can feel safe, if they have committed a crime against humanity.”

This segment originally aired August 1, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.