It would no doubt be fitting if the long decades of hunting down Nazi criminals were capped by a last, climactic trial in which a major perpetrator of the genocide against Jews was forced to face his victims and meet his just deserts.
Unfortunately the trial of John Demjanjuk in Munich that began yesterday is unlikely to live up to this demand. The crimes of which he is accused are horrendous enough – that, as a camp guard (which he denies) he helped murder nearly 28,000 Jews in the Sobibor death camp. But at 89 and confined to a wheelchair, he is no longer the stuff of monstrosity. Nor is it his first trial. In 1988 he was convicted of being the notorious Treblinka guard, Ivan the Terrible, only to be freed on appeal on the grounds of mistaken identity.
More than 60 years after the Holocaust, the magnitude and horror of this crime has hardly dimmed, nor the demand for an accounting for it. But after three generations, justice no longer has the trapping of majesty that once obtained.