(photo credit: Associated Press)
BERLIN — A suspected former Nazi death camp guard has been charged with participating in the murder of 430,000 Jews and other crimes during the Third Reich, German prosecutors said Wednesday.
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Samuel Kunz, 88, was informed last week of his indictment on charges including participation in the murder of 430,000 Jews at the Belzec death camp in occupied Poland, where he allegedly served as a guard from January 1942 to July 1943, prosecutor Christoph Goeke in Dortmund said.
Kunz is also charged with murder over "personal excesses" in which he
allegedly shot a total of 10 Jews in two other incidents, Goeke told The
Kunz was not detained because officials who interviewed him think that
he will not try to flee the country, a person familiar with the case
said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not
authorized to reveal details of the investigation.
Goeke said the case has been sent to the state court in Bonn, where
officials were considering whether and when to hold a trial — a standard
procedural step in Germany.
Bonn court spokesman Matthias Nordmeyer said the court did not want to comment now on the case.
Efraim Zuroff, the top Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said
Kunz participated in the so-called Operation Reinhard to eliminate
"The indictment of Samuel Kunz is a very positive development," Zuroff
said from Jerusalem. "It reflects recent changes in the German
prosecution policy, which have significantly enlarged the number of
suspects who will be brought to justice."
Zuroff said Kunz had never previously been on trial over his alleged
Nazi-era past and that his name first came up in investigations
connected to the trial of John Demjanjuk.
Demjanjuk, 90, is currently on trial in Munich on charges of being an
accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews as a guard at the Sobibor death
camp in occupied Poland. He denies he was ever a camp guard.
Prosecutors allege that both Kunz and the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, a
retired Ohio autoworker who was deported to Germany from the US last
year, trained as guards at the Trawniki SS camp.
Kunz, an ethnic German, was born in August 1921 on Russia's Volga River.
During World War II, as a soldier with the Soviet Red Army, he was
captured by the Germans and given the choice of either staying at the
Chelm prisoner of war camp or cooperating with the Nazis, said Klaus
Hillenbrand, a German expert who has written several books on the Nazi
Authorities recently stumbled over Kunz' case when they studied old
documents from German post-wars trial about Trawniki in connection with
the Demjanjuk trial. After several German media then reported about
Kunz' alleged Nazi past, the Dortmund prosecutor's office started an
investigation into the allegations, Hillenbrand said.
"During the 1960s, prosecutors were not interested in charging low-ranking guards," Hillenbrand said.
"That changed in the last ten years, when a new generation of
prosecutors took over and there's a new way of thinking among them — the
law itself was not changed, just the interpretation of the law."
Despite a recent push by prosecutors to track down Nazi suspects, their efforts often come too late.