Former Nazi camp guard weeps at trial
A FORMER SS guard aged 94 broke down in tears on Tuesday on the first day of his trial in Germany charged with complicity in mass murder at a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.
The German man from the western district of Borken, North Rhine-Westphalia state, served as a guard from June 1942 to September 1944 at the Stutthof camp near what was then Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland.
German media identified him as Johann R., a retired l a ndscape a rc hi t e c t and divorced father of three.
Dressed in a wool suit, he entered the regional court of Muenster in a wheelchair, with a walking stick in hand, facing charges of being an accessory to the murders of several hundred camp prisoners.
These included more than 100 Polish prisoners gassed in June 1944 and “probably several hundred” Jews killed from August to December 1944 as part of the Nazis’ so-called “Final Solution”.
I n i t i a l l y composed, t he defenda nt sta r ted weeping when the court heard written test i mony f rom Holocaust survivors who now live in the US or Israel, read out by their law yers.
Marga Griesbach recalled, according to national news agency DPA, how she saw her six-year-old brother for the last time in the camp before he was sent to Auschwitz where he died in the gas chambers.
Another survivor and coplaintiff, a woman from the US state of Indianapolis, charged that the defendant “helped to murder my beloved mother, whom I have missed my entire life”.
‘Gassed, shot, left to die’
Aged 18 to 20 at the time, and therefore now being tried under juvenile law, the defendant is “accused in his capacity as a guard of participating in the killing operations,” Dortmund prosecutor Andreas Brendel said.
“Many people were gassed, shot or left to die of hunger,” he added, stressing that the guards “knew about the killing methods”.
But when interrogated by police in August last year, the accused insisted he knew nothing about the atrocities in the camp, Die Welt daily reported.
Asked why the camp detainees were so thin, he reportedly said that food was so scarce for ever yone that, figuratively speaking, two soldiers could fit into one uniform.
Stutthof was set up in 1939 and would end up holding 110,000 detainees, 65,000 of whom perished, according to the Museum Stutthof.
Each court hearing will likely last for a maximum of two hours due to the defendant’s advanced age – even though, prosecutor Brendel said, “mentally, he is still fit”.
The defendant was planning to make a statement during the course of the trial, his lawyer told DPA.
If found guilty, he faces a sentence of up to 15 years in prison – even though, given his age and the possibility of an appeal, he is considered unlikely to serve any time behind bars.
Brendel noted that German law has no statute of limitations on murder and pointed to the moral imperative to pursue the case.
“Germany owes it to the families and victims to prosecute these Nazi crimes even today,” he said.