SHARE
COPY LINK

SS

Trial of former SS guard, now 94, starts in Münster

A former SS guard, aged 94, goes on trial Tuesday in Germany charged with complicity in mass murders at a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, in a case bearing symbolic and moral weight.

Trial of former SS guard, now 94, starts in Münster
Visitors pass the entrance of the Stutthof Museum in Sztutowo (Poland), which commemorates the crimes committed in the former concentration camp Stutthof. Photo: DPA

The man from the western district of Borken was a watchman from June 1942 to September 1944 at the Stutthof camp near what was then the free city of Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland.

He was not named by prosecutors, but Die Welt daily identified him as Johann R., a landscape architect who once worked for North Rhine-Westphalia state authorities.

The trial marks a new attempt in Germany's race against time to prosecute surviving Nazis, after a new legal precedent was set in 2011.

The nonagenarian is accused of being an accessory to the murders of several hundred camp prisoners, the regional court of Münster said, more than seven decades after the end of WWII.

These included more than 100 Polish prisoners gassed on June 21 and 22, 1944, as well as “probably several hundred” Jewish prisoners killed from August to December 1944 as part of the Nazis' so-called “Final Solution” operation.

As a watchman aged between 18 and 20 at the time, he is “accused in his capacity as a guard of participating in the killing operations,” Dortmund prosecutor Andreas Brendel told AFP.

“Many people were gassed, shot or left to die of hunger,” he added.

As the guards were a crucial part of the camp system, the man “knew about the killing methods” there, said prosecutors.

 'Mentally still fit' 

But when interrogated by police in August 2017, the accused insisted he knew nothing about the atrocities in the camp, Die Welt reported.

Asked why the camp detainees were so thin, the defendant reportedly said food was so scarce for everyone that two soldiers could fit into a uniform.

The defendant will make a statement during the course of the trial, his lawyer told national news agency DPA.

Stutthof was set up in 1939 and would end up holding 110,000 detainees, out of which 65,000 perished, according to Museum Stutthof.

The defendant will be tried before a juvenile court as he was not yet 21 at the time of the crimes.

Given his advanced age now, each court hearing will likely last for a maximum of two hours.

“But mentally, he is still fit,” said Brendel.

If found guilty, he risks up to 15 years in prison, although the elderly man is unlikely to serve any time.

 'No exceptions' 

Nevertheless, Brendel said “if one looks at how many evil doings and crimes were perpetuated, one can understand why elderly people too have to face prosecution.

“Since there is no statute of limitations in Germany on murder, as a prosecutor one is obliged to pursue this case. But the moral aspect should also be considered,” he said.

“Germany owes it to the families and victims to prosecute these Nazi crimes even today. That is a legal and moral question.”

Germany has been racing to put on trial surviving SS personnel, after the legal basis for prosecuting former Nazis changed in 2011 with the landmark conviction of former death camp guard John Demjanjuk.

He was sentenced not for atrocities he was known to have committed, but on the basis that he served at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland — for having been a cog in the Nazis' killing machine.

German courts subsequently convicted Oskar Gröning, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning — a former SS guard at the same camp for the mass murders.

But both men, convicted at age 94, died before they could be imprisoned.

Prosecutors have also filed charges against another former SS guard at Stutthof, a 93 year old from the city of Wuppertal. It remains to be determined if he is fit to stand trial.

Historian Peter Schöttler underlined “an important humanitarian and legal reason” to push on with the justice process.

“If we let this case go, then there will be a new excuse for letting something else go. A rule of law should not allow for exceptions.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

NAZIS

Germany closes case against deported ex-Nazi guard, 95

German prosecutors said Wednesday they have closed their case due to lack of evidence against a 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard recently deported by the United States.

Germany closes case against deported ex-Nazi guard, 95
Graves for unidentified victims at the Neuengamme camp. Photo: DPA

Friedrich Karl Berger arrived in Frankfurt on February 20th, “possibly the last” such expulsion by Washington of a former Nazi, a US official had said then.

Prosecutors in the city of Celle, who had previously halted their probe of the man, had reopened investigations over suspicion of complicity in murders on his return, as Berger had said he was willing to be questioned.

But “after exhausting all evidence, prosecutors at Celle have once again closed the investigation because of a lack of sufficient suspicion,” they said in a statement.

Berger, who had retained German citizenship, was deported for taking part in “Nazi-sponsored acts of persecution” while serving as an armed guard at the Neuengamme concentration camp system in 1945, the US Justice Department said.

He had been living in the US since 1959, and was stationed as a young man from January 28th, 1945 to April 4th, 1945, at a subcamp of Neuengamme, near Meppen, Germany.

German investigators had been examining whether during his time there, and in particular when “monitoring a march evacuating the sub-camp, he had contributed to the death of many detainees”.

More than 40,000 prisoners died in the Neuengamme system, records show.

Germany has been hunting down former Nazi staff since the 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk on the basis he served as part of the Nazi killing machine set a legal precedent.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Nazi hunters in final straight of race against time

Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.

Among those who were brought to late justice were Oskar Gröning, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, an SS guard at the same camp.

Both were convicted of complicity in mass murder at the age of 94 but died before they could be imprisoned.

In February, German prosecutors charged a 95-year-old who had been secretary at the Stutthof camp with complicity in the murders of 10,000 people, in the first such case in recent years against a woman.

Days later, a 100-year-old former guard at the Sachsenhausen camp, north of Berlin, was charged with complicity in 3,518 murders.

SHOW COMMENTS