After latest sentence, Germans eager for Nazi trials' end
Former officer Josef Scheungraber will face life in prison, a court ruled Tuesday. The next trial, of John Demjanjuk, may be the last for Nazi crimes in Germany.
Vienna, Austria — When Germany hosted and placed third in the World Cup three years ago, fans draped themselves in the German flag, waved the flag from cars, and unfurled it from living room windows. Sixty-four years after the end of World War II, it finally felt acceptable to be German again.
In one of the last Nazi trials to take place, a German court Tuesday sentenced Josef Scheungraber to life in prison. He was convicted of ordering the murder of 10 Italian civilians while serving as a Nazi officer in Tuscany, a revenge crime for the murder of two German troops in June 1944. Gino Massetti, who survived the massacre as a boy, testified at the trial.
Now, the final chapter of living Nazi history is being written. The last trial in Germany for alleged Nazi crimes is expected to begin in October for John Demjanjuk, who was deported from the United States in May to face charges he was a guard at the notorious Treblinka concentration camp. He is alleged to have helped operate its gas chamber.
For many Germans, the trials can't be finished soon enough.
"We hear about the trial every day on TV, we read about it every day in the newspaper, politicians make sure it is as the top of the agenda," says Ursula Weber-Kelke, a retired schoolteacher from Darmstadt. "We are fatigued from the constant attention to it. It never stops.
"We are not saying justice shouldn't be carried out. These men committed crimes and need to be punished. Only that this horrible era continues to chase us. And it's time to move on."
A recent poll suggests that is exactly what's happening. The Identity Foundation in Dusseldorf reports that 73 percent of Germans classify themselves as "proud to be German" today, more than twice as many who felt that way less than 10 years ago.
"I think we are ready to say the past is the past," says Heiko Topp, a German graphic designer now living in Northern Ireland. "When I was traveling in Israel, I often had the question about how I feel about what happened. I can only say that I cannot undo the past. If I could, I would. But it is also not healthy to constantly be wrapped up in it. We need to evaluate what happened, but we also need to live in the world today."
"I talk to my daughter about the war. Whatever questions she has, I answer openly. She needs to be educated about it," says Mr. Topp.
Topp grew up in East Germany, and says he can see how far the country has come.
"I don't say we are patriotic like Americans are patriotic, but this generation is not ashamed to be German. The Nazi era was a very, very long time ago. Most of us were not even born then."