Former SS medic Hubert Zafke, accused of aiding in 3,681 murders in Auschwitz in 1944, attends his trial on September 12, 2016 at the court in Neubrandenburg..
(photo credit: BERND WÜSTNECK / DPA / AFP)
A 92-year-old and a 93-year-old are on trial in Germany. They are accused of being Nazi prison guards in the Stutthoff concentration camp, which was located just over the border in Poland. At the time the city was called Danzig, today, in Polish, it is called Gdansk.
Trying nonagenarians has its risks – the accused may not even live long enough to see the end of the trial. And yet, despite that risk, this trial is fair and just and necessary. The reason for this must be clearly articulated to Germans, to the world and the Jewish people around the world.
This trial is not about revenge – it is about justice and history.
There is no statute of limitations on mass murder or crimes against humanity. The evil of the deeds that were perpetrated in Stutthoff and in all other camps during the reign of the Nazis is unimaginable to those of us fortunate enough not to have been victims. It is our obligation – even these many years later, to bring Nazi guards to justice. It is our duty to show the world how low ordinary, everyday people sank in carrying out Hitler’s plan to murder the Jews of Europe.
After the war a few groups of young, strong Jewish survivors engaged in acts of revenge. They self-organized and went from town to town exacting brutal revenge on Nazis and Nazi collaborators. These groups had various monikers, various names, but most commonly called themselves “schlaggers,” which in Yiddish means “hitters.” They had been hit and now they were hitting back. There were not many of these groups and the phenomenon did not go on for long.
It is hard to imagine that anyone involved with Stutthoff, especially the guards, would not have known about the newly built gas chamber added to the camp in the fall of 1943. It is impossible that they would have been ignorant of the murder of 85,000 out of the 110,000 Jews brought to Stutthoff. It is impossible to have been blind to the horrific conditions and poor sanitation in the camp – the diseases, the dysentery, the malnutrition. It is impossible to have been oblivious to the sounds of shots ringing out.
It was also in Stutthoff that the Nazis, under the direction of a scientist named Prof. Rudolf Spanner, experimented on Jewish corpses. They experimented with making soap out of the fat of Jews. Making soap was not a policy, it was an experiment. His experiment was called “Reines Judische Fett” or “Pure Jewish Fat.” Soap and evidence of experimentation were actually introduced in the Nuremberg Trials. The soap found in Stutthoff was tested against the evidence entered into the Nuremberg Trial and they were found to be one and the same.
The trial taking place now is not the first trial of Stutthoff guards. After World War II there was a trial of 11 Nazis. That trial was not part of Nuremberg – the Poles tried them. And at trial’s end, each and every one was convicted of mass murder and war crimes.
However, the current Nazi trials may well be the last. The Wiesenthal Center is helping by amassing witnesses to help the prosecution, but as time moves on its list of names is becoming shorter and shorter. If nothing else, these trials enforce the principle that the world plays a role in pursuing justice for victims even decades after the fact.
With each passing month, witnesses and victims are becoming fewer in number. Perpetrators are becoming fewer. The story of the Holocaust is fading away. These last trials are an attempt to make certain that more people, especially younger people remember and that they have a personal connection to the atrocities of the Holocaust.
In 2017 we are not only witnessing the dilution of Holocaust history, we are also being subjected to an abuse of Holocaust memory. The word “Holocaust,” even sometimes written with a small “h,” is bantered around as if it simply means discrimination or a lack of preference for something. The Antifa movement has usurped the word and uses it to describe general, everyday hatred.
These trials are teaching moments for the world, especially for our youth. History will be introduced and written into the court record, media will cover the trial and the horrors that took place in Stutthoff will be exposed to some people who, before this, had no idea of the atrocities of the Holocaust. And hopefully, they will remember what they saw and heard and learned.
In the end, it is the memory of the horror that brings justice to the victims. Trials and courts are the vehicles that get us there.The author is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His new TV show on JBS-TV is called Thinking Out Loud, and his latest book is called THUGS. He maintains The Micah Report.