We crossed off the Jewish retirement home in the area for what are hopefully obvious reasons, as well as the all-women retirement homes for different but equally obvious reasons. This left us with four facilities he could be in. Eventually, at one of the homes, we were keeping an eye on the downstairs restaurant when Jurgen suddenly pulled up his camera and started taking pictures. There he was: a Nazi war criminal, in the withered, wrinkly flesh. And that was ... kind of it. Jurgen began to put away his camera and said, "All we can do now is update where he is living and that he's still alive."
Maybe he'll make a mistake at some point. Or maybe he'll quietly die in his sleep, or get dementia for real. Hell, even if he could be brought to trial, would he live to see the verdict? Would imprisonment be appreciably different from his current life? The guy isn't exactly zipping around on a jet ski in his spare time. And no matter what is done to him, he still got 70 years of a normal, peaceful life after killing 10 times as many people as Ted Bundy. He's a shuffling reminder that if karma exists, it has some huge fucking blind spots.
"That man in there killed hundreds of people and never expressed guilt or remorse," Jurgen growled. "But he left a free man because he's claiming to be too sick. He's going to die free." Most Nazi war criminals died free. Nazi hunting is a noble endeavor, but it doesn't have a high success rate. Remember when we said 87 old Nazis had been convicted between 2001 to 2011? Well, those convictions represent a 3 percent success rate for Nazi hunting as a profession.
So why keep doing it? Jurgen has his reasons. "There is a line I like. 'This is not hatred. This is retribution. This is not revenge. This is justice.' Every war criminal, it doesn't matter if they are a Nazi or Khmer or Serbian, needs to know this. It doesn't matter how long it takes or how good a life you have led after what you did. You still did it. And there will always be the Simon Wiesenthals of the world to make sure you see justice."
And sometimes the best justice you can get is passive-aggressive, rather than of the carving-swastikas-into-faces variety. Once, Jurgen was tracking a 90-year-old former camp guard who escaped prosecution. He decided to pay the man's neighbors a visit. "I noticed a Mezuzah [a Jewish door decoration] on a house two away from his and knocked on the door. I wasn't thinking, but when they opened it, I was silent with nervousness, then showed them the present-day photo. I asked, 'Is this your neighbor?' They said, 'Yes. Why?' 'He's a Nazi.' They complained so vocally that he had to move." Because if you can't prosecute them, you can at least inconvenience the hell out of them.
Evan V. Symon is a Personal Experience Team interviewer, writer and interview finder. Have an awesome job/experience you'd like to share? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org today!
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