The Mills of God have Jammed, or Why Some Crimes Remain Unpunished

The Mills of God have Jammed, or Why Some Crimes Remain Unpunished

Whatever the genocide or war we consider in modern times, the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes mostly escape justice. Why is this?

For example the guards in the protectorate internment camp for Bohemian and Moravian Romani escaped punishment. Only Josef Janovský, the feared commandant of the camp in Lety, who stole the already miserly food rations for prisoners and was fired in 1943 for not coping with an epidemic of typhus, was brought before a court. The trial took place only after three years, in September 1948, and dozens of witnesses from among the former guards suddenly could not remember anything specific. Their victims were not allowed to be witnesses in the case.

However Blažej Dydy, who was sent to the camp in Hodonín and then in 1943 deported to the so-called Gypsy camp in Auschwitz, received a life sentence. He was chosen to be a Kapo, a prisoner assisting in running the camp, and like most of his “colleagues” in this role that depended on the whims of the SS, he did not exactly treat his fellow prisoners with kid gloves. After the war one of these denounced him to the police, and unlike Janovský, his case was given a great deal of publicity. It is ironic that the only perpetrator to be punished was himself a victim.

It turned out similarly with those involved in the post-war violence. Karol Pazúr, who was responsible for the massacre of 265 men, women and children at Švédské Šance, was decorated and promoted shortly after the incident. An investigation took place only in 1947, and Pazúr was the only one of the murderers prosecuted. He was initially sentenced to seven and a half years, raised to twelve years on appeal, but President Gottwald cut his sentence by half and then in 1951 Pazúr was amnestied after two years in prison. This former member of the Hlinka Guard (a fascist paramilitary organisation in Slovakia) after the war became a senior official in the Union of Antifascist Fighters, and was also a State Security agent for the remainder of his life.

All these cases have one thing in common: the perpetrators escaped justice due to their involvement in the Czechoslovak Communist Party or in the communist-controlled security apparatus of the third republic. Aside from this, the communists played an important role in the post-war expulsion of the German-speaking population and some historians see their involvement as a kind of rehearsal for the seizure of power in 1948. After this no-one was allowed to talk of the excesses that took place during the mass expulsions, which reliably protected the perpetrators from punishment and for some four decades froze the process of reflecting on these events.

In the other countries of the eastern block it was no different. After all in Putin’s Russia even today there is no will to talk of the worst horrors of Stalinism, just as in Turkey when it comes to the Armenian genocide. Generally it can be said that the closer in time the genocide occurred, the greater the chance that at least some of the perpetrators will be punished. For example from the hundreds of members of the Serbian paramilitary group, the Scorpions, which among other things participated in the massacre at Srebrenica, at least nine have been convicted.

The circumstance that played the main role in our country was the degree of freedom after a period of violence. Where one totalitarian system replaces another the perpetrators can be virtually sure that they will escape justice. How the situation appears when society can and does take responsibility can be seen here.


text: Jaroslav Ostrčilík
photo: Akademie věd ČR