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Virtual reality is helping to bring the last of Auschwitz’s war criminals to justice

More than seven decades have passed since the last prisoners at Auschwitz were liberated, but still, not all those with a hand in the atrocities of the Holocaust have been brought to justice. But now, a new technology is helping to catch some very old war criminals — thanks to breakthroughs in virtual reality, German experts have now found a way to digitally walk through Hitler’s infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, the site of more than 1.1 million murders over the course of World War II. And in this VR representation, investigators and prosecutors can “see” like never before.

In exploring this VR version of Auschwitz, officials don special goggles that allow them to walk about the camp as though they were members of the SS, thereby seeing the landscape through the eyes of a criminal. “The model can be used in trials to counter the objection of suspects who claim that they did not witness executions or marches to gas chambers from their vantage point,” said Jens Rommel, head of Germany’s federal office for the investigation of Nazi war crimes, in an interview with NBC.

While suspects have long stood by the defense of not really knowing what was going on in the death camps, Rommel noted that this new model provides a new way to examine intent. “Must a suspect have known that people were being taken to the gas chambers or shot?” he told AFP. “This model is a very good and very modern tool for the investigation because it can help answer that question.”

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The 3D model was created by LKA digital imaging expert Ralf Breker, who believes he has created the most exacting representation of the camp to date. Speaking with AFP, he added, “It is much, much more precise than Google Earth. We use the most modern VR goggles on the market. When I zoom in, I can see the smallest detail.”

Ultimately, officials hope that this simulation will aid in the prosecution of the last alleged war criminals who took part in the horrors of the Holocaust. But even going through the virtual camp (and certainly building it) has proven “one of the most difficult tasks” Breker and his colleagues have ever experienced.

“There are truly no words for it,” Breker said. “Unbelievable.”