A 101-year-old man was convicted in Germany of more than 3,500 counts of complicity in Tuesday’s murder for serving in the Nazis’ Sachsenhausen concentration camp during World War II.
The Neuruppin Regional Court sentenced him to five years in prison.
The man, identified by local media as Josef S., had denied working as an SS guard at the camp and of having participated in the murder of thousands of prisoners.
In the trial, which began in October, the centenarian said he had worked as a farm laborer near Pasewalk in northeastern Germany during the period in question.
However, the court considered it proven that he worked in the camp on the outskirts of Berlin between 1942 and 1945 as a conscripted member of the paramilitary wing of the NSDAP, the German news agency dpa reported.
“The court has concluded that, contrary to what you allege, you worked for about three years as a guard in the concentration camp,” said judge Udo Lechtermann, chairman of the dpa. He added that the defendant had assisted in the Nazi terror and murder mechanism.
“You have voluntarily supported this mass extermination with your activity,” Lechtermann said. “You have seen deported people torture and murder there every day for three years.”
Prosecutors had based their case on documents pertaining to an SS guard with the man’s name, date and place of birth, as well as other documents.
The five-year prison sentence was in line with the prosecutor’s demand.
The defendant’s lawyer had asked for an acquittal. Lawyer Stefan Waterkamp said he would appeal against the verdict after the verdict, dpa reports.
The leading Jewish group in Germany welcomed the ruling.
“Even if the defendant is unlikely to serve the full prison term because of his advanced age, the sentence should be welcomed,” said Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
“The thousands of people who worked in the concentration camps kept the killing machine going. They were part of the system, so they should take responsibility for it,” Schuster added. “It is bitter that the accused has denied his activities to the end and has shown no regrets.”
For practical reasons, the trial took place in a gymnasium in Brandenburg/Havel, the home of the 101-year-old. The man was only partially fit to stand trial and was only able to participate in the trial for about two and a half hours a day. The process was interrupted several times for health reasons and hospitalizations.
Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Nazi fighter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center office in Jerusalem, told The Associated Press that the phrase “sends a message that if you commit crimes like this, even decades later, you could face trial.” brought.”
“And it’s very important because it closes the relatives of the victims,” Zuroff added. “The fact that these people suddenly feel that their loss is being addressed and that the suffering of their families that they have lost in the camps is being addressed… is a very important thing.”
However, Zuroff expressed concern that due to his planned appeal and his advanced age, S. would serve only part of the sentence or no sentence at all.
Sachsenhausen was founded in 1936 just north of Berlin as the first new location after Adolf Hitler gave the SS complete control of the Nazi concentration camp system. It was intended as a model facility and training camp for the labyrinthine network the Nazis had built in Germany, Austria and occupied territories.
More than 200,000 people were held there between 1936 and 1945. Tens of thousands of prisoners died from starvation, disease, forced labor and other causes, as well as from medical experimentation and systematic SS destruction operations, including shelling, hangings and gassing.
Exact numbers about the dead vary, with higher estimates of around 100,000, though scholars suggest numbers from 40,000 to 50,000 are likely more accurate.
In the early years, most of the inmates were political prisoners or criminals, but there were also some Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals. The first large group of Jewish prisoners was brought there in 1938 after the so-called Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht, an anti-Semitic pogrom.
During the war, Sachsenhausen was expanded to include Soviet POWs – who were shot by the thousands – and others.
As in other camps, Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen were singled out for particularly harsh treatment, and most of those still alive in 1942 were sent to the Auschwitz death camp.
Sachsenhausen was liberated in April 1945 by the Soviets, who then turned it into a brutal camp of their own.
Tuesday’s ruling is based on a recent legal precedent in Germany that says anyone who aided a Nazi camp could be prosecuted for complicity in the murders committed there.
In another case, a 96-year-old woman was on trial in the northern German town of Itzehoe at the end of September. The woman, who is said to have worked as a secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp during the war, has been charged with more than 11,000 complicity in murder.