“Operation: Last Chance” is a joint project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Targum Shlishi Foundation of Miami, Florida designed to assist governments in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. It offers financial rewards of up to 10,000 euros for information, which will help facilitate the prosecution and punishment of Holocaust perpetrators, and has already been launched in Germany, Austria, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
While the necessity of bringing those who committed the crimes of the Holocaust to justice is patently obvious, the practical difficulties of achieving this goal are becoming increasingly difficult as time goes on. Although there are at least many thousands of individuals who actively participated in the implementation of the Final Solution who have never been prosecuted for their crimes, the chances of their being held accountable are rapidly diminishing due to several obvious factors:
- the advanced age of the suspects
- the advanced age of the potential witnesses (survivors, bystanders, and/or fellow perpetrators)
- the difficulty in obtaining credible witnesses for crimes which were committed many years ago, often in remote and/or inaccessible locations chosen to insure secrecy
- the lack of political will to prosecute local Nazi collaborators in numerous post-Communist societies
- the lack of political will to prosecute immigrant Holocaust perpetrators in some of the countries of refuge
Under these circumstances, the Simon Wiesenthal Center believes that a special effort must be made during the coming year to maximize the attempts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. In order to contribute its share to achieve this goal, the Center-together with Targum Shlishi, a charitable foundation founded and headed by Aryeh Rubin of Miami, Florida, who conceived of this project- has decided to launch “Operation: Last Chance,” a special program designed and implemented by Israel Director Dr. Efraim Zuroff to help identify as many perpetrators and potential witnesses as quickly as possible and thereby facilitate the bringing to justice of hereto unprosecuted Holocaust perpetrators.
- The Simon Wiesenthal Center is hereby officially announcing its intention to pay the sum of ten thousand U.S. dollars ($10,000) to any person who submits relevant information which will lead to the prosecution and conviction of a Nazi war criminal who will be punished for his or her crimes. This offer applies to any Nazi war criminal who committed his or her crimes during World War II, regardless of his or her current place of residence.
- Besides press conferences announcing the launching of “Operation: Last Chance” in Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn, ads with details on the project will appear in the local media. There will also be a special website for the project which can be reached through www.wiesenthal.com
Those submitting pertinent information will remain anonymous if they so desire.
3. Why “Operation: Last Chance” Is Being Launched in the Baltics?
There are numerous reasons why the Baltics were chosen as the initial place to implement “Operation: Last Chance.” While several relate to the specific nature of the events of the Holocaust in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, others are a product of practical and technical considerations. The most important are the following:
- These countries had the highest victimology rate in Europe during the Holocaust. Not only were the local Jewish communities almost completely annihilated but many thousands of Jews from other countries (Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and France) were deported to the Baltics and murdered in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
- The extremely large number of local collaborators who actively participated in the mass murder of the local Jewish communities and Jews deported to these countries.
- The fact that local police units from each of the Baltic countries were sent abroad, where they actively participated in the mass murder of Jews (especially in Belarus and Poland.)
- Following the occupation of the Baltics by the Soviet Union in 1944, many Nazi war criminals were prosecuted and convicted by the Soviet authorities. These individuals can testify regarding crimes committed during the Holocaust that they personally witnessed without fear of prosecution
- The fact that there has not been a single prosecution of a local Nazi war criminal – in which the defendant was healthy enough to attend the trial and bear punishment if convicted – in any of the three Baltic countries makes the efforts to bring the guilty to justice of unique significance for Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian society.
- With all three countries on the verge of being invited to join NATO and the European Union, there will be special interest in the attitude of the Baltic republics to this important subject.
Sources: Simon Wiesenthal Center