The Nazi slogan "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) is pictured at the gates of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland January 27, 2017..
(photo credit: AGENCY GAZETA/KUBA OCIEPA/VIA REUTERS)
Prosecutors in Stuttgart filed an indictment against an unnamed former SS Auschwitz guard accused of being an accessory to the murder of more than 13,000 people.
The indictment was filed at a nearby regional court in Mannheim last week.
Charges faced by the 94-yearold suspect relate to his activities “supporting camp operations and thus acts of extermination” at Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland from December 1942 to January 1943, when he was 19 years old. Due to his age at the time of the alleged crimes, he faces trial in a juvenile court.
“In this time, at least 15 rail transports arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp after which people were immediately selected [to live or die] based on their ability to work,” the Stuttgart public prosecutor’s office said. “The prosecutor’s office assumes that at least 13,335 of these people were classified as unfit to work and murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau.”
Prosecutors said the German citizen, born in the Serbian town of Ruma, began his military training as a guard at Auschwitz in October 1942 before starting work in December of the same year.
The suspect said through his defense lawyer that he was “not aware of the background, intent or procedures behind the killing” at the camp.
The legal precedent set by the May 2011 conviction of Sobibor death camp guard John Demjanjuk paved the way for German authorities to seek the prosecution of other former Nazi guards. Since that case, German citizens can be prosecuted on the basis of their role at Nazi concentration camps rather than based on evidence of involvement in a specific killing.
Demjanjuk died in March 2012 in a German nursing home after being released pending his appeal against the conviction.
The advanced age and failing health of suspected Nazi perpetrators often prove to be a stumbling block for prosecutors.
In September 2017, prosecutors threw out the case of a former SS medic accused of 3,681 counts of accessory to murder at Auschwitz after he was deemed unfit to stand trial. A spokesman for the Neubrandenburg regional prosecutor’s office said Hubert Zafke, 96 and diagnosed with dementia, was no longer able to “reasonably assess his interests or coherently follow or give testimony.”
In June 2017, Reinhold Hanning, a 95-year-old former Auschwitz SS guard convicted by a German court in June 2016 of being an accessory to the murder of more than 170,000 people, died before entering prison for his five-year sentence.
Hanning had appealed the ruling and, at the time of his death, the conviction was not legally binding as his appeal was still pending.
Former Nazi guard Oskar Groening, known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” was convicted in 2015 as an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews at the German death camp and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.
Groening died in March 2018 without starting his sentence due to a lengthy legal dispute over his health, with his lawyer repeatedly arguing that his age and frail health were grounds for a pardon.