The eight-month trial of an accused former Nazi concluded in Germany on Tuesday with the conviction of a 101–year-old man on 3500 counts of accessory to murder while he was serving in the SS at a notorious concentration camp during WWII.
Josef S., as he has been identified per German privacy laws, was sentenced to five years in prison by the Neuruppin Regional Court in Brandenburg following the guilty verdict. He has denied prosecutors’ accusations that he’d worked at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1942 and 1945 and that he’d aided and abetted the daily murders of thousands of prisoners. He claimed at trial that he was a farm laborer during the war but the court rejected this claim and ruled that he’d in fact worked as an enlisted member of the Nazi Party’s paramilitary wing at Sachsenhausen, just outside of Berlin.
“The court has come to the conclusion that, contrary to what you claim, you worked in the concentration camp as a guard for about three years,” said Presiding Judge Udo Lechtermann, as German news agency DPA reported from a gymnasium in Brandenburg/Havel that, for logistical reasons, functioned as a courtroom. “You willingly supported this mass extermination with your activity. You watched deported people being cruelly tortured and murdered there every day for three years.”
Multiple documents were presented by prosecutors at the months-long trial that pointed to Josef S. as being a former SS guard; his name, as well as his date and place of birth, appeared on the damning documents. The five-year sentence handed down by the court is in line with the demands of the prosecutors. Defense attorneys for Josef S. had sought an acquittal at the trial and said after Tuesday’s decision that they plan to appeal the verdict, DPA reports.
Despite his advanced age, Josef S. was deemed fit enough to stand trial, though for only a few hours per day. The defendant’s health issues and hospitalizations led to interruptions and delays in proceedings several times since they began in October.
Josef S.’s trial came after Germany recently established a legal precedent that any individual who helped a Nazi camp in any capacity can now be prosecuted as an accessory to murder. In September, a 96-year-old woman accused of being a secretary for the SS commandant of the Stutthof concentration camp went on trial in Germany.
The Sachsenhausen concentration camp was established in 1936 and later meant to be the model for the Nazi’s network of camps across Germany and its other occupied areas. Political and criminal prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses and gay men were sent to Sachsenhausen after it was established and the first group of Jewish prisoners was forced there in 1938 after the “Night of Broken Glass,” a pogrom against Jews whose homes and synagogues were ransacked by Nazi paramilitary forces and civilians as German authorities looked on; this is widely considered to have been the beginning of the Holocaust.
Prisoners who did not die of starvation, disease, or during forced labor at Sachsenhausen may have been murdered during medical experimentation or shootings, hangings or gassings. Those who survived there in 1942 were sent to the Auschwitz death camp. Academics have said somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 people were murdered at Sachsenhausen while others estimate the figure is as high as 100,000 people.
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