A Greenbrae doctor has launched possibly his last attempt to bring an alleged Nazi war criminal to trial in Germany.
Dr. Michael Franzblau, along with a U.S. senator and the Anti-Defamation League, hopes public pressure finally will force officials in the German state of Bavaria to put Dr. Hans Joachim Sewering on trial.
"I've been totally stonewalled by the German government at every level," Franzblau said. "This is my last hurrah."
Sewering, who still practices medicine, allegedly sent 900 German Catholic children with disabilities to a "healing center," where they were killed during World War II. Sewering has denied knowing the purpose of the center.
Last week on the Senate floor, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) told the story of the Nazi doctor. He encouraged senators to sign a letter urging Germany to prosecute Sewering.
"It's the least [Germany] can do for 900 children starved to death because of their disabilities. This is an abomination," Santorum told his colleagues on July 12.
To add to the pressure, a committee of doctors headed by Franzblau and supported by the ADL ran a full-page ad in The New York Times July 14 charging Bavaria with "harboring and protecting" an accused war criminal. The ad urged people to write or fax German officials and lobby for Sewering's prosecution for crimes against humanity and murder.
German officials are "protecting a man with unclean hands," Franzblau said.
Franzblau, a Jewish dermatologist and medical historian who lost family in the Holocaust, has been the driving force behind the efforts to prosecute Sewering. He paid for the $63,000 ad.
Franzblau said he is pursuing Sewering because he is outraged that a fellow physician may have murdered children.
If this effort doesn't force Germany to act, however, Franzblau said he'll likely be forced to end his 2-1/2 year pursuit. He sees public pressure as the last resort to bring Sewering to justice.
Franzblau, an ADL commissioner and alternate delegate to the American Medical Association's governing body, says he is also acting out of a belief that Nazis should not get away with their crimes, regardless of how much time has passed.
"Some of us have not forgotten their bestiality," the 68-year-old doctor said.
The Committee to Bring Dr. Hans Joachim Sewering to Justice, which Franzblau heads, holds a document proving that Sewering signed an order transferring a 14-year-old girl with epilepsy from the Schoenblunn Sanitarium to a so-called healing center at Eglfing-Haar in October 1943. German officials have suggested the document is a forgery.
Franzblau rejects any suggestion that the transfer order is a fake and believes Sewering signed at least 900 such orders.
Sewering's alleged efforts were part of a larger German plan to euthanize tens of thousands of children with mental and physical disabilities.
After the war, Sewering gained prestige in Germany as the head of its medical society and as a senator from the state of Bavaria. Today, the 79-year-old man lives in Dachau, the former site of a Nazi concentration camp.
Franzblau and the committee began demanding the German government investigate Sewering in 1993 when he was elected head of the World Medical Association.
The association was created in 1947 to set ethical standards for doctors across the globe in the aftermath of the Holocaust's infamous medical experiments and euthanasia.
Sewering resigned from his position with the WMA after an international outcry.
After the incident, Franzblau called for a probe into how Sewering could have reached such a high rank in the association. But the investigation went nowhere, Franzblau said, and led him to conclude that WMA officials had lost sight of the purpose of the group's creation.
"They've made a mockery of it," he said.
Franzblau has a similarly dim view of the German government, which he accuses of blocking official investigation into Sewering.
He now believes that only public attention will force Germany to act.
"They don't give a hoot or holler unless it's public," Franzblau said. "The German government worries about image more than anything else."
German prosecutors have refused to look for documents that would indict Sewering or to interview Franciscan nuns who worked with Sewering at the sanitarium, Santorum said.
In 1993, four nuns said everyone at the sanitarium knew transferring children to the so-called healing center was a ticket to death. Franzblau traveled to Germany last summer to try to interview two of the surviving nuns, but government officials would not release their names.
"They're [German officials are] hoping the other two will die, and they'll be off the hook," Franzblau said.