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100-year-old ex-Nazi prison camp guard linked to 3,500+ deaths goes on trial

A model of the security perimeter fence around the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. (Photo by Ruan de Witt, Wikipedia Commons/Released)
October 07, 2021

The trial of a 100-year-old former Nazi SS concentration camp guard began in a German courtroom on Thursday.

Reuters reported prosecutors allege the Nazi camp guard, identified only as Josef S., contributed to the deaths of 3,518 people at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The German man stood guard in the watchtower between 1942 and 1945 when the thousands of deaths occurred.

The Associated Press reported the German man is being charged as an accessory to murder in the thousands of cases.

Prosecutors specifically accused Josef S. of “contributing to cruel and insidious murders” by aiding in “creating and maintaining life-threatening conditions in the camp.”

“The defendant knowingly and willingly aided and abetted this at least by conscientiously performing guard duty, which was seamlessly integrated into the killing system,” prosecutor Cyrill Klement said at the start of the trial.

The charges were made possible by a 2011 court decision allowing prosecutions to go forward for those who contributed to concentration camp murders even if they never fired a weapon or gave an order that directly resulted in a prisoner’s death.

Sachsenhausen opened in 1936 and was one of the first Nazi concentration camps. Sachsenhausen served as a training camp for SS guards who then went to serve in other concentration camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka.

Sachsenhausen primarily housed political prisoners from all over Europe and Soviet prisoners of war as well as some Jews.

According to the Brandenburg Memorial Foundation, Sachsenhausen initially operated as a forced labor camp and then carried out the mass murder of some 3,000 internees in the final stages of the war as the Soviet Red Army closed in on the camp. Thousands more internees died as camp guards forced them to march to other camps to escape the Soviet advances. The Brandenburg Memorial Foundation says thousands of internees at Sachsenhausen were killed as a result of hunger, disease, forced labor, medical experiments and mistreatment or were the victims of systematic extermination operations by the SS.

Reuters reported the poison gas Zyklon-B was used to kill people interned at the Sachsenhausen camp. Zyklon-B was used throughout Nazi German concentration camps, where millions of Jews and other prisoners were systematically killed during the Holocaust.

As the trial began at a court in Neuruppin, near the German capital of Berlin, the lawyer for the accused camp guard held up a blue folder in front of his client’s face to conceal his identity.

Doctors have said that the man is only partially fit to stand trial and so court sessions will be limited to just two and a half hours per day.

The first day of the trial was attended by 79-year-old Antoine Grumbach, whose father was a French resistance fighter who died in the camp.

“It’s a lot of emotion… I can’t really speak,” Grumbach told Reuters, before turning to hold back tears.

100-year-old Leon Schwarzbaum also attended the first day of the trial. Schwarzbaum reportedly sat quietly while showing a photo of him and his parents and uncle, who all died in Auschwitz.