Seventy years after notorious Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz were occupied and shut down by the Allies, German prosecutors have begun constructing high-quality 3D models and simulations of the camp to expose Nazi guards, whom have claimed ignorance and innocence since the end of WWII.
After more than one million people were killed at Auschwitz during the war, thousands of Nazi guards escaped prosecution with the infamous Eichmann defense, and claimed their responsibilities were merely logistical — like guarding gates, delivering food, etc. — and that the camp was so big they were unaware of what was really happening.
By rebuilding Auschwitz with high-quality digital models and simulations — complete with 360-degree views from any point in the camp — and locating guard posts based on archival information uploaded to an electronic database, prosecutors hope to finally expose the truth of those claims by seeing first-hand which guards could see what.
“Many former guards say that they didn’t know anything because they couldn’t see from where they were serving,” German prosecutor Karl Dietrich, who helped build the digital model, told The New York Times. “This allows us to go in and look at whether that is true. What could one see from a watchtower? Could you see the chimneys of the crematoria? Could you see smoke?”
“I have never heard of a three-dimensional virtual model being introduced in a trial,” New York University criminal law and procedure professor James B. Jacobs said. ”The creator of the digital model would be cross-examined by the defense, just as any drawing, photo or three-dimensional construct would be cross-examined.”
According to Jacobs, defense attorneys will likely try to point to the imperfections in the digital model and poke holes in its authenticity in much the same way they would try to cast doubt over the testimony of a witness or prosecutorial evidence.
“That’s for the jury to decide, based on the credibility of the model and the witnesses who built it,” Jacobs said.
The likelihood of conviction and sentencing is still largely in the air for a number of reasons. Even the youngest former Nazis are pushing 90 years of age, and of those still fit enough to stand trial, many have health deficiencies that will likely let them avoid harsh sentencing.
“In court, we use photographs and drawings of crime scenes all the time,” Jacobs said describing how digital modeling could shape crime scene recreation and help to convict criminals in future cases. “I can see how 3D virtual models could be very useful.”