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CRIME

‘I am innocent’: former Nazi guard, 100, tells German court

A 100-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person charged with complicity in the murder of thousands of detainees, told a German court on Friday that he was not guilty.

The accused Josef S sits in court on Thursday
The accused Josef S sits in court on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

“I am innocent,” said Josef S, who stands accused of “knowingly and willingly” assisting in the murder of 3,518 prisoners at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.

When asked about his work at the camp, he insisted that he “knows nothing” about what happened there and that he did “absolutely nothing”.

“Everything is torn” from his head, he said, complaining that he was the only one in the dock.

Allegations against S include aiding and abetting the “execution by firing squad of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942″ and the murder of prisoners “using the poisonous gas Zyklon B”.

The Sachsenhausen camp detained more than 200,000 people between 1936 and 1945, including Jews, Roma, regime opponents and gay people.

Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labour, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.

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

 ‘No man like you’

The accused’s defence had said at the opening of the case on Thursday that he would not speak about his time at the camp, but would only provide details about his personal life.

Arriving alone at the hearing with his walking aid, the accused recounted in detail his past, including his work at his family’s farm in Lithuania with his seven siblings before his enrolment in the army in 1938.

After the war, he was transferred to a detainees camp in Russia before he was sent to Brandenburg state in Germany where he worked as a farmer and later as a locksmith.

Speaking with a clear voice, he spoke about his past birthdays with his daughters and grandchildren, or about his late wife.

“My wife always said that ‘there’s no other man in the world like you’,” said the widower since 1986.

He remains free during the trial. Even if convicted, he is highly unlikely to be put behind bars given his age.

More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.

The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way to several of these twilight justice cases.

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 brought to late justice were Oskar Gröning, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz.

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

Most recently, former SS guard Bruno Dey was found guilty at the age of 93 last year and was given a two-year suspended sentence.

Separately in the northern German town of Itzehoe, a 96-year-old former secretary in a Nazi death camp is on trial for complicity in murder.

She dramatically fled before the start of her trial, but was caught several hours later. Her trial resumes on October 19th.

READ ALSO: Former Nazi camp secretary caught after escape bid

By David COURBET

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CRIME

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

A 21-year-old gunman opened fire at a secondary school in northern Germany on Thursday, badly injuring a female member of staff before being arrested, police said.

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

The incident happened at the Lloyd Gymnasium school in the centre of Bremerhaven, a city on Germany’s North Sea coast, on Thursday morning. 

“The armed person has been arrested and is in police custody,” police said in a statement. The injured woman was not a pupil, police said.

They said the suspect had entered the school building and fired at a female member of staff, who was “seriously injured”.

The alarm was quickly raised and police said they detained the suspect at a nearby location soon after and had seized his weapon at the scene.

The injured woman is being treated in hospital.

A video circulating on social media and German news sites appeared to capture the moment the gunman was arrested.

A man dressed in black is seen lying face down on a street corner, with a weapon next to him, before being handcuffed by officers.

But there was no immediate confirmation of reports the alleged weapon was a crossbow.

Bremerhaven police tweeted in the morning that a large deployment was under way in the city centre and asked residents to avoid the Mayor-Martin-Donandt square and surrounding streets, in the vicinity of the Lloyd secondary school.

Local news site Nord24 said a school pupil had heard shots being fired and called the police. Pupils barricaded themselves in their classrooms.

Police launched a large-scale operation and cordoned off the area around the school while they carried out inquiries. 

By mid-afternoon, police said special forces had completed their search and the last people had left the building.

Authorities set up a phone hotline for concerned parents. Many parents had gathered in front of the school after being alerted by their children.

Pupils and staff are receiving psychological counselling.

Local media said only around 200 people were on the school grounds, fewer than normal because of exam times.

In a separate incident on Thursday, police in the eastern city of Leipzig said they had detained a 21-year-old student still at secondary school after being tipped off by Snapchat that he had posted pictures of himself with a gun and made unspecified threats.

The US social media platform alerted German authorities, prompting Leipzig police to take action.

 A police spokesman said that the 21-year-old did not pose a real threat, however, and only possessed an airsoft gun, a replica firearm that uses non-lethal, usually plastic, pellets.

‘Strict gun laws’

School shootings are relatively rare in Germany, a country with some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. But a recent spate has rattled the population.

Last week, investigators in Germany’s city of Essen said they foiled a school bomb assault, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a “Nazi terror attack”.

Police in Essen stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

In January, an 18-year-old student opened fire in a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany, killing a young woman and
injuring three others before fleeing the scene and turning the weapon on himself.

In 2009, a former pupil killed nine students, three teachers and three passers-by in a school shooting at Winnenden, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The gunman then killed himself.

In 2002, a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled, shot dead 16 people including 12 teachers and two students at a school in the central German city of Erfurt. He too then killed himself.

The Winnenden and Erfurt massacres were carried out with legal weapons and spurred Germany to tighten gun laws.

The country currently requires anyone under 25 to pass a psychiatric exam before applying for a gun licence.

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