Nazi trial: 100-year-old SS guard in court in Germany

Nazi trial: 100-year-old SS guard in court in Germany

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Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Two hundred thousand prisoners were held at Sachsenhausen from 1936 until 1945

Seventy-six years after the end of World War Two, a former concentration guard is going on trial for assisting in the murder of 3,518 prisoners at Sachsenhausen camp near Berlin.

Josef S is accused of complicity in the shooting Soviet prisoners of war and the murder of others with Zyklon B gas.

Time is running out for Nazi-era criminals to face justice and he is the oldest defendant so far to stand trial.

It was only in recent years that lower-ranking Nazis were brought to trial.

Ten years ago, the conviction of former SS guard John Demjanjuk set a precedent enabling prosecutors to charge people for aiding and abetting Nazi crimes in World War Two. Until then, direct participation in murder had to be proven.

Identified as Josef S, because of German privacy laws, the man going on trial has lived in the Brandenburg area for years, reportedly as a locksmith. He has not spoken publicly about the trial.

He was 21 when he first became a guard at Sachsenhausen in 1942. Now almost 101, he is considered able to appear in a specially adapted court in Brandenburg an der Havel for up to two and half hours a day.

Tens of thousands of people died at the camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, including resistance fighters, Jews, political opponents, homosexuals and prisoners of war.

A gas chamber was installed at Sachsenhausen in 1943 and 3,000 people were massacred at the camp as the war drew to a close because they were “unfit to march”.

Thursday’s trial is especially important for 17 co-plaintiffs, who included survivors of Sachsenhausen.

Christoffel Heijer was six years old when he last saw his father: Johan Hendrik Heijer was one of 71 Dutch resistance fighters shot dead at the camp.

“Murder isn’t destiny; it’s not a crime that can be legally erased by time,” he told Berliner Zeitung.

However, most Nazi camp guards will not face trial.

Image source, AFP
Image caption, Nazi SS guard Bruno Dey was convicted last year of complicity in 5,000 murders

There were 3,000 guards at Stutthof concentration camp alone, and only 50 were convicted. Bruno Dey was convicted of complicity in mass murder there last year and given a suspended sentence,

Only last week, a Nazi secretary at the Stutthof camp, Irmgard Furchner, was due to go on trial north of Hamburg but escaped from a nursing home hours beforehand.

She was eventually caught in Hamburg and her trial was rescheduled for 19 October. She was released from custody earlier this week.

Media caption, Holocaust survivors: The families who weren’t meant to live

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