The German prosecutor's office accused a 94-year-old former concentration camp guards on several hundred occasions on Tuesday of opening one of the most likely recent incidents to clear up the Nazi regime's crimes of being a murderer.
The accused, a former SS member who was expelled as Johann R., served as a security guard in the Stutthof camp from June 1942 to September 1944. He was only 18 years old when he entered the camp, that is, the court in the city of Münster will pursue Johann R as a juvenile defendant.
The trial is part of a recent wave of charges against senior SS members accused of supporting and supporting the mass murder of Jews and other victims in Nazi concentration camps. Most of them escaped prosecution for more than seven decades because the German courts considered their personal contribution to the killings to be too low or insufficiently specific to prosecution.
In the last ten years, however, case law has become less lenient, and German courts now regularly order that even SS members who were not directly involved in the killings are guilty of being murderers.
"These lawsuits come late, but they offer both the defendants on the one hand and the survivors and their offspring the opportunity. You have the opportunity to present their story in a public space, "said Jens Rommel, senior prosecutor and head of the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes, the FT before the trial.
Mr. Rommel, whose office has recently initiated the Stutthof and other cases, but leaves the investigation and prosecution to other branches, added, "It may seem unfair that those whose responsibilities were far greater are not facing a few The role they played was a minor, and those who were very young at the time are now being brought to justice.
"But I still think we're doing the right thing. It is important to show that there was no anonymous machine that committed the murder, but that it was done by individuals. "
Stutthof, located near the Polish city of Gdansk, was originally built by the Nazis as a prison camp, but later converted into a concentration camp and equipped with a gas chamber and a crematorium. Tens of thousands of victims – Jews from Eastern Europe, but also Soviet prisoners of war and Polish political prisoners – were murdered at the site before the camp was liberated by the Red Army in May 1945.
Andreas Brendel, chief prosecutor in the case Stutthof, said on Tuesday in his opening charges, the defendant knew about the killings and also know that the killings are only possible because he was there to guard the victims.
He described in detail the different ways in which the SS killed victims at the Stutthof. These included pseudo-investigations in which victims were shot in the back of the head while apparently measuring their height. At least a few hundred were killed by injection of gasoline or phenol into the heart, others died of hunger or freezing while forced to stand naked in the winter cold.
The defendant has not yet commented on the indictment.
Among other testimonies, the court heard a statement from the lawyer of Judy Meisel, an 89-year-old Stutthof survivor who now lives in the US but is too weak to travel to Münster. She described Stutthof as "SS set up and executed by the SS" and remembered watching her mother waiting in line to enter the gas chamber. "Death became a constant companion in my life," said Ms. Meisel.
Johann R, who used a wheelchair to enter the courtroom in the West German town, remained largely motionless during the prosecutor's request, but later seemed to wipe a tear while listening to the survivors' testimony.
Due to its frailty, court hearings do not take more than two hours a day. The trial should last at least until February.