100-year-old Nazi war criminal on trial
An elderly man accused of being a Nazi concentration camp guard who oversaw the slaughter of prisoners at the height of World War II is claiming his innocence in a German court this month.
The man, identified only as Josef S., is permanent trial for his role in the extermination of thousands of concentration camp inmates, which took place at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1942 and 1945, according to the Associated Press. The man’s identity has been withheld due to German privacy laws.
The 100-year-old is charged with 3,518 counts of aiding and abetting murder, resulting from his stint as an SS guard in the wartime concentration camp outside Berlin more than seven years ago decades.
More than 200,000 prisoners, including Jewish inmates, as well as other racial and sexual minorities and political opponents, were held captive at Sachsenhausen in the 1930s and 1940s. Tens of thousands have been executed by gassing, hanging and firing squad. Countless more have died from starvation, medical experiments, forced labor and disease, according to the German government.
“The accused supported this knowingly and willfully – at least by conscientiously carrying out a guard duty, which was perfectly integrated into the killing regime,” prosecutor Cyrill Klement told the BBC in court. reported.
Children of murdered resistance fighters also described in court how their fathers were killed in Sachsenhausen, the newspaper said.
“Murder is not inevitable; it is not a crime that can be legally erased by time,” Johan Hendrik Heijer told the court.
Heijer’s father was one of 71 Dutch resistance figures executed in Sachsenhausen. He would have been 6 the last time he saw his father alive.
The trial, which includes a total of 17 co-plaintiffs, was also attended by some of the WWII-era camp survivors.
“This is the last trial for my friends, acquaintances and relatives, who were murdered, in which the last culprit can still be convicted – hopefully,” Leon Schwarzbaum, 100, told German media, according to the BBC.
The survivor of Sachsenhausen also endured the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
During the trial, the accused’s attorney, Stefan Waterkamp, declined to comment on the brutal accusations. The mute response, however, appeared to further escalate tensions between the man’s client and family members of the victims present in court.
“For the survivors, it is still a rejection, as was the case in the camp”, Christoph Heubner of the Auschwitz International Committee said. “You were vermin.
Despite the advanced age of Josef S., who arrived in German court in a wheelchair, he had previously been found mentally fit for the Holocaust trial.
“I found him surprisingly robust and present”, Heubner added. “He would have the strength to apologize and he would also have the strength to remember. Obviously, however, he does not want to muster the strength to remember, and for the survivors of the camps and for the relatives of the murdered who have come here to hear about the truth, this once again means rejection, denigration and a confrontation with the continuous silence of the SS.
Last week, in a separate case, a 96-year-old secretary to a Nazi concentration camp commander allegedly missed her own trial in northern Germany. The Hamburg woman, however, was captured hours later, the Associated Press reported.
More than 90 Germans – many of whom are 90 and over – have been convicted of Holocaust crimes in recent years since courts there broadened the legal definitions used to condemn such atrocities. The series of lawsuits have sparked intense debate in Germany, where the Holocaust remains a politically charged issue, about how to humanely try war criminals whose decaying physical and mental conditions present a complicated ethical dilemma.
“It took a long time, which didn’t make it any easier, because now we are dealing with such elderly defendants,” Klement, the German attorney charged with prosecuting Josef S., told the New York Times more early this year. “But murder and aiding and abetting murder have no statute of limitations.”
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