The last few Nazi prosecutions I’ve heard about on this forum have left me with a sense that some people confuse justice with revenge, and mercy with weakness. The only Nazis who are still alive from that era were little more than child soldiers at the time. They surely were not people who made policy, and they most likely were tasked with performing their atrocities at gunpoint. The choice offered was bleak - to guard the death camps or to die inside them.
It is easy to condemn them - state that they should have died rather than further the evils of their regime. But in that time and place? The human body wants to live - it fights back against death. The human spirit also can be broken - retreating inside itself and permitting great evil in order perhaps to live another day.
My father served as a US airman during that same war. He completed a distinguished tour of service, coming home with decorations up to and including the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was not yet twenty when the Japanese surrendered. Had the outcome been different, he would surely have been a war criminal for his participation in the bombing of civilians. He surely was not proud of his military career, and never spoke about it in later life. He did, though, view it as an unfortunate necessity, believing that even more innocents would have died had the war not been brought to a speedy close. In any case, he was an airman, in a society that had adopted total war. He fought. He followed orders. He from time to time saved the lives of his buddies. That’s what soldiers, and sailors, airmen and Marines do.
Or, to put the shoe on the other foot, imagine a court some decades hence trying you for the atrocities committed in the name of the United States. Would you be quick to condemn your friends and family for not interposing their own bodies to prevent the imprisonment of innocent children, drone strikes on equally innocent victims, or the rendition of our own citizens abroad for torture? What about the inner-city kid who hears, ‘sentence suspended if you enlist,’ or simply signs up to get out of a violent community?
Were we to look back on WWII and admit guilt for the atrocities of our own nation, I cannot believe it would be fair to impose the complete blame on those who were still in their teens, in a society where military service was expected of all. It’s likewise unfair to ascribe full responsibility for atrocities committed by an ancient man who was a youth, without full civic rights or responsibilities, at the time that they occurred. In fairness, I have to assign the same degree of responsibility to the youth of our enemies. It is right that the judge and jury in this case should be tasked with determining the extent to which the defendant was responsible for his own actions, and wrong to condemn from afar the system that requires that determination.
The fact that the black teenagers in our midst have an even harder road obtaining mercy, or even justice, merely means that we need to work to uplift them as well - not that we must demand that mercy be denied to someone who is perhaps less deserving of it. The fight for justice, and the dispensation of mercy, are not a competition.