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CONCENTRATION CAMP

Ex-SS guard, 94, to testify at trial in Münster

A former guard charged with complicity in mass murder at a Nazi concentration camp will testify at his trial in Germany on Tuesday, making a rare statement in one of the last cases of its kind.

Ex-SS guard, 94, to testify at trial in Münster
The 94-year old at the first day of trial last Tuesday. Photo: DPA

The 94-year-old German from the western district of Borken, North Rhine-Westphalia state, served as a watchman from June 1942 to September 1944 at the Stutthof camp near what was then Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland.

He was not publicly named but German media identified him as Johann R., a retired landscape architect and divorced father of three.

His statement would mark a rare occasion for victims and their relatives to 
hear directly from the accused on the alleged crimes committed seven decades ago.

At the opening of his trial last week, the defendant shed tears as he heard 
written testimony from Holocaust survivors who now live in the United States or Israel.

SEE ALSO: German ex-SS concentration guard, 94, weeps in court

The nonagenarian is charged with being an accessory to the murders of  several hundred camp prisoners.

These included more than 100 Polish prisoners gassed in June 1944 and  “probably several hundred” Jews killed from August to December 1944 as part of the Nazis' so-called “Final Solution”.

Aged 18 to 20 at the time, and therefore now being tried under juvenile law, the defendant is “accused in his capacity as a guard of participating in the killing operations,” Dortmund prosecutor Andreas Brendel told AFP.

If found guilty, he faces a sentence of up to 15 years in prison – even though, given his age and the possibility of an appeal, he is considered unlikely to serve any time behind bars.



Shame

Christoph Rücken, a lawyer representing an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor  who now lives in the United States, said: “It would be an important sign for us if (Rehbogen) stood there to confirm the reality.”

“An apology would be good.”

Although the trial is late in coming, Rücken said it “eases the suffering of my client”. 

“A punishment would be symbolic for such an old man but that's important in  times like now when nationalism and anti-Semitism are returning.

It's important to show that the rule of law says you will face the court if you do these things.”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 any atrocities he committed, but on the basis that he served as a cog in the Nazi killing machine at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland.

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

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

At his trial in 2015, Groening apologized and sought forgiveness. He also admitted “moral guilt” although he denied any legal culpability.

Like Groening, Hanning told his victims he was sorry.

He admitted to being “silent all my life” about the atrocities because he felt deep shame, not having spoken about it even to his wife, children or grandchildren.

Another trial against a 96-year-old former medical orderly at the Auschwitz 
death camp collapsed in 2017 because he suffers from dementia.

Wheelchair-bound Hubert Zafke had faced 3,681 counts of being an accessory to murder at the concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, but his trial ended in disarray.

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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.

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