NEURUPPIN, Germany – A former SS guard, now 100, entered a German courtroom on a walker on Thursday to face charges of helping send more than 3,000 people to their deaths in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII.
Prosecutors say Josef S., a member of the Nazi Party paramilitary SS, contributed to the deaths of 3,518 people at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by regularly standing guard in the watchtower between 1942 and 1945.
Doctors said the man, whose full name was withheld due to German trial reporting rules, is only partially fit to stand trial: sessions will be limited to just two and a half hours per day.
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At the start of the trial, his lawyer held up a blue folder to hide his client’s face as he was presented in court in Neuruppin, near Berlin.
Some people interned in Sachsenhausen were murdered with Zyklon-B, the poison gas also used in other extermination camps where millions of Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
Sachsenhausen housed mainly political prisoners from all over Europe, as well as Soviet prisoners of war and a few Jews.
“It’s a lot of emotion … I can’t really speak,” said Antoine Grumbach, 79, before suddenly turning away as he was overcome with tears. His father, a French resistance fighter, died in the camp.
Leon Schwarzbaum, 100, quietly awaited the start of the trial in the courtroom, showing reporters a photo of him with his parents and uncle, all of whom died at Auschwitz.
Prosecutors accuse Josef S. of having “contributed to cruel and insidious killings” by helping “to create and maintain living conditions in the camp”.
In recent years, a series of charges have been brought against former concentration camp guards for crimes against humanity during World War II. Last week, a 96-year-old former camp secretary fled the day her trial began, but was arrested by police hours later.
A 2011 court ruling paved the way for these final prosecutions, declaring that even those who indirectly contributed to wartime killings, without pulling the trigger or giving an order, could bear criminal responsibility.
Sachsenhausen, opened in 1936 as one of the first Nazi concentration camps, served as a training camp for SS guards who then went to serve elsewhere, including Auschwitz and Treblinka. Among others killed at Sachsenhausen were Dutch resistance fighters and national political opponents of the Nazis.