In Depth

Nazi trial: 100-year-old former concentration camp guard to face trial in Germany

Centenarian up in court on ‘thousands of counts of being an accessory to murder’

A 100-year-old former guard at the Sachsenhausen Nazi concentration camp near Berlin is to face trial 76 years after the end of the Second World War.

The accused, who has not been named in accordance with German law surrounding the naming of suspects, will be tried in the district court of Neuruppin on a charge of accessory to murder in 3,500 cases, German weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag reports.

The man “worked as a camp guard from 1942 to 1945 in Sachsenhausen”, Reuters adds, where around 200,000 people were imprisoned and 20,000 murdered under the Nazi regime. The camp held 11,000 Jewish prisoners in 1945. Despite the man’s age, a court spokesperson said that a trial was being arranged as the defendant should be able to appear in court for two to two-and-a-half hours a day.

The decision to prosecute a centenarian “reflects how law enforcement officials are racing against time to bring some closure for elderly Holocaust survivors and their families”, The Washington Post says, especially “as more and more Nazi personnel and their victims die in old age”.

The likelihood of individuals reaching trial was also enhanced by a “landmark court ruling” in 2011 that overturned a previous need for prosecutors “to prove defendants had committed specific acts, against specific victims, to convict them of WWII-era war crimes”, the paper adds.

This threshold was “near-impossible to meet due to the general anonymity of camp guards”. However, in 2011 a Berlin court found American-Ukrainian John Demjanjuk guilty of being an accessory to 28,000 murders due to his work as a guard at Sobibor concentration camp in occupied Poland.

Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in jail for his crimes, a verdict which “paved the way for convictions that largely rested on whether the defendant had served at a Nazi death camp”, the paper adds.

“While the number of suspects in Nazi crimes is dwindling prosecutors are still trying to bring individuals to justice”, France 24 says, with the 2011 trial opening up the opportunity to pursue “grounds for culpability with no proof of a specific crime”.

The 100-year-old man will join “scores of elderly suspects recently brought to trial for having allegedly worked for the Nazi regime at concentration camps”, The Washington Post adds.

Between 2001 and 2018, at least 105 individuals were convicted, deported, denaturalised, or extradited from North America and Europe for allegedly participating in war crimes, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group.

Later this year, 96-year-old Irmgard Furchner will stand trial relating to her work as a “stenographer and secretary” at the Stutthof concentration camp beginning when she was 18 years old, Der Spiegel reports. The trial will seek to answer the question of “how much did a woman who never entered the camp see behind her desk about the killing?”.

Her role included the passing on of orders by “letters, telex or radio messages” detailing “execution orders” and “deportation lists for the trains to Auschwitz”, as well as “instructions on mass killings using poison gas”, the magazine adds.

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