Hundred-year-old German man goes on trial for Nazi crimes
A commemorative plaque at the former Nazi concentration camp of Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg, north of Berlin. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty
A 100-year-old German man will go on trial on Thursday charged with murder during his time as a Nazi concentration camp guard.
Prosecutors claim the unnamed man “assisted in the cruel and insidious murder” of 3,518 prisoners in the Sachsenhausen camp, north of Berlin, where he served for three years until 1945.
More than 200,000 people were held in Sachsenhausen and tens of thousands died from starvation, disease, forced labour, medical experiments, systematic shootings, hangings and gassing.
The defendant, who has been deemed fit to stand trial, is accused of involvement in the shooting of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942 and the murder of prisoners with the poison gas Zyklon B.
The case will be heard in Neuruppin, an hour northwest of Berlin, where prosecutors conducted an 18-month investigation into the man, a resident of the state of Brandenburg. Prosecutors say the man’s name showed up during a search of Moscow Military Archives.
The trial is the latest in a belated wave of prosecutions against elderly Germans, mostly lower-level officials in the Nazi era. Last week, a 96-year-old woman went on trial near Hamburg, accused of 11,000 cases of complicity to murder. She worked in the Stutthoff camps and, prosecutors say, was aware that she “assisted those responsible at the camp in the systematic killing”.
The woman spent four days in prison after failing to appear for the opening day of her trial, which will continue on October 19th.
Nearly eight decades after the collapse of the Nazi regime, historians say the circle of potential cases is shrinking. “It’s a race against time,” said Thomas Will, head of Germany’s central office for investigating Nazi crimes in Ludwigsburg.
Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi hunter with the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, whose investigations have brought many people to trial, said that until recently, the German system was constructed to limit the number of prosecutions. “But now things have changed dramatically, making it possible to do things,” he said. “These trials offer survivors and their families, who join as co-plaintiff, a very important measure of closure.”