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New at Reason: From Hauptsturmfuehrer to Hauptsturmgeezer—can an SS officer be too old to prosecute? Charles Paul Freund looks at the case of Erich Priebke.

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  1. No.

  2. I concur: 90 years is not too old for punishment in such a crime.

  3. People who “just follow orders” do more to destroy the freedom to NOT “just follow orders” than anyone else in the world.

  4. There is no statute of limitations on individual murder, let alone attempted genocide. Don’t put this evil old fart in a cushy EU jail–treat him the way the Jews in the camps were treated, only instead of tattooing his arm with a number, he should be tattooed with the legend “Ich bin ein utter waste of human genetic material.”

  5. If he’d been convicted in the post-war years and jailed for 5 decades, I could be convinced to support a compassionate release. But not only did he have his freedom for all that time, he didn’t even live as a fugitive.

    That was his parole. Bury him on the prison grounds.

  6. Jennifer,

    European prisons are not “cushy”; indeed, they are far more harsh on average than American prisons are.

    As to the question, well, I have relatives (by genetics and marraige) who were killed by Nazi scum; he should go to prison and before forced build memorials to his victims.

  7. Why does advanced age confer some kind of sympathy? It may be right to feel compassion for poor or otherwise disadvantaged old folk. But many old people have received more than their fair share of benefits from society. This beast was allowed 60 years of peace. They should try to pack 60 years of misery into whatever time he has left on earth.

  8. jim,

    I completely agree.

  9. Why does advanced age confer some kind of sympathy? It may be right to feel compassion for poor or otherwise disadvantaged old folk. But many old people have received more than their fair share of benefits from society. This beast was allowed 60 years of peace. They should try to pack 60 years of misery into whatever time he has left on earth.

  10. Make him live in the cave.

  11. CPF didn’t broach the matter of what Italian soldiers did in WWII. Had Italy completed the war as German ally, would we be hunting down Italian counterparts to Priebke?

  12. The old Nazi could be 120 years old, senile, crippled and blind, and I say he’d still be deserving of punishment. It’s just to bad he never had to worry about facing the death penalty.

  13. Jean Bart-
    Officially, EU prisons may be harsher than American, but in all seriousness-in a European prison, what are the chances that a prisoner will be raped and/or beaten on a daily basis? Perhaps ‘cushy’ wasn’t the right word; what about ‘safe’ or ‘humane?’

  14. > Why does advanced age confer some kind of sympathy?

  15. dj of raleigh,

    Because Priebke is a murderous thug who deserves to be thrown in jail for the rest of his life, and will be.

  16. jennifer,

    In French prisons at least, rapes are very common; as are lice, rats, mice, etc. Indeed, the suicide rates in French prisons are very high from a per capita standpoint (as well as rates of self-mutilation). Every few years a left paper like Le Monde will publish a series of horrible stories; but the majority of Frenchmen tend to yawn at them. There is a long tradition of having horrible prisons in France; do not expect it to stop.

  17. dj of raleigh,

    The man is Nazi scum; he merits prison and much more. When that murderous fucking piece of shit Barbie was captured I cheered; when it is personal to you, you will understand.

  18. The problem the story alludes to–and one those posting here ignore– is what to do with all those who just follow orders. There are thousands of them.

    What would have happened to this guy if he refused the orders? Would he be remembered as a hero, or would there have been 336 bodies in those caves?

    It’s easy to pick out individual murderers and say, throw the book. But if thousands of the guilty are out there, can we imprison them all? Can we execute them all? Can justice really be served? Or do we make a few examples and let the rest have guilty consciouses? As a practical matter, the last suggestion is the most workable. The others lead to more and more bloodshed.

    What percentage of Rawandans deserve a death penalty? Is it larger than the number that died in the massacres?

  19. jon,

    Can we imprison them all? Yes. Can we execute them all? Yes. Can justice really be served? Not if you’re running the show, apparently.

  20. This is the kind of crap you come up with when you fail in the obligation of decent people to execute murderers. I will let the compassionate assholes figure this out. They created the problem.

  21. “What would have happened to this guy if he refused the orders? Would he be remembered as a hero, or would there have been 336 bodies in those caves?”

    I asked this question once of a professor, or a version of it. I loved his response, “At some point our lives become not worth living, if we do not take a stand.” Further, the Hauptsturmfuehrer was no innocent victim, indeed as very, very few of this ilk were. He VOLUNTEERED for this at least twice, once by joining the SS and once by joining not the Waffen SS (no great humanitarian organization) but by joining the Allegemine SS or the Occupation Forces. So, this man WANTED to be there and I have NO sympathy for him. As a Catholic I can hope for Salvation, I can pray for his Redemption, but I have no sympathy for him, he wasn’t too likely to refuse the orders, and not simply for fear of execution.

  22. Everyone keeps talking about prison. To quote from Tim’s piece, Priebke is “serving a life sentence under house arrest.” That doesn’t sound like prison to me. So I assume that his living conditions are not all that rough. That this doesn’t satisfy the knee-jerk compassion for a 90 year old man astonishes me.
    As for his advanced age, I wouldn’t feel much sympathy even if he HAD spent the past 5 decades in prison. Those are 5 decades of life his victims never got.

  23. Err, Charles Paul Freund wrote the essay, not
    Tim. Oops.

  24. I think this guy deserves much worse than he’s getting. But I also think that there are a few, uhhh, ummm PRACTICAL considerations one must consider when confronted with massive amounts of killing.

    #1: Once all the killers start to get gathered up, wouldn’t they become antsy and start to kill the witnesses in the future trials? No witness, no testimony, no problemo!

    #2: Wouldn’t they learn to kill all the witnesses in the first place, not to mention all the fellow perpetrators of less-than-iron-clad “spirit”? That sure makes for a better world.

    #3: Most “volunteers” to such units during war time are only seeking a way to avoid the slaughter at the front. We can question their morality until next year, but I bet many of us would take a position in Rome over a position on the Russian front (even when things were going well for the Germans). This doesn’t excuse his actions, but it isn’t really a damning accusation, either.

    When thousands (or even millions) are guilty, sometimes it’s better to just let history judge them. After the bigshots get bullets to the head, of course. This guy was small fry.

  25. Small fry who is getting his just desserts, mind you. But still small fry.

  26. > dj of raleigh,
    Because Priebke is a murderous thug who deserves to be thrown in jail for the rest of his life, and will be.Posted by easy answer

  27. > There is a long tradition of having horrible prisons in France; do not expect it to stop.

  28. Okay, everyone’s made the point. We think Nazis are really bad. But how can our stated “execute ’em all” policy be used to bring justice to the genocidal victims and perpetrators of Congo, Algeria, Somalia, Sudan, the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Iraq, Iran, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, South Africa, Israel, Palestine, Zimbabwe, Biafra, Russia, Turkey, Guatemala, Indonesia, China (and Tibet), Rawanda, and all the other places I forgot?

    Bringing justice to that many places can only be accomplished with a forceful military occupation.

  29. Again, I never said let him go. I asked, what’s the best way to deal with the thugs who followed the bigger thugs orders? I’m not saying let them go free, I’m wondering if any proportionality should be applied here.

    It’s clear in the case of Hitler and Germany that Hitler would be top of the list (and he did the much-needed job for us), but where do we go from there? When we reach the lower levels of both carnage and responsibility, I’d say that treating the lieutenants the same as the generals isn’t good policy.

    In the end, wars are political more than legal actions. “Just following orders” is the way all armies work. And the immorality and evil of illegal orders is greater at the head than the tail.

  30. speedwell, it was the word “get” followed by a preposition; had me thinking “get under your skin.” I wasn’t sure exactly what we shouldn’t let this person do – there are so many things we shouldn’t let Nazi war criminals do, after all.

  31. “But how can our stated “execute ’em all” policy be used to bring justice to the genocidal victims and perpetrators of Congo, Algeria, Somalia,..” (et cetera)

    Well, Jon, of course it can’t. But why should it be used?

    After all, those atrocities and genocides and whathaveyou are taking place in far away countries of which we know little or nothing and that are inhabitated by strange people who could be described aptly, if not politely, as savages (you know, that kind of people who use to wear bones through their nose and do unspeakable things to little critters). Surely we have lower expectations of their demeanor than of the Germans’ who acted somehow out of character during WWII, for a folk of poets & philosophers at least, no?

  32. Simply because all evils cannot be attacked at once does not excuse letting one evil that one may attack get between your fingers.

  33. Is “get between your fingers” a French thing? Because I have no idea what you’re saying.

  34. > Is “get between your fingers” a French thing? Because I have no idea what you’re saying.

  35. Joe, you’re being wilfully blind. Any person who didn’t have their head inserted into the sandpile would have seen the similarities to the English phrases “within your grasp” and “slip through your fingers.” Jean conflated them, that’s all.

  36. Joe on March 8, 2004 09:18 PM

    You sum up many of the issuess here. Anyone who has read Daniel Goldhagen’s “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” knows that german soldiers were not generally penalized for not participating in death squads. I realize that some of Goldhagen’s scholarship in that work has been questioned but I have not heard that one claim disputed. You made the excellent point that one had to VOLUNTEER for the SS; I would add that while early in the war one could claim to be swept up in nationalist fervor, this happened in 1944 (any one who was doing more than “putting up the good fight” at that point was a fanatic).

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