Josef Schuetz, a 101-year-old former SS concentration camp guard, was sentenced on Tuesday to five years in prison by the court in Brandenburg an der Havel for murder. Schuetz was accused of complicity in the murder of 3,518 individuals within the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, north of Berlin.
“Mr. Schuetz, you were active for about three years in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp where you were an accomplice to the mass murders,” said Court President Udo Lechtermann. “You were aware that prisoners had been killed there. By your presence, you supported [it]. Anyone wanting to flee the camp was shot. Thus, any camp guard actively participated in these murders.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center said on Monday that Schuetz’s attorney used “well-worn arguments against Nazi war crimes trials taking place at this late date in Germany. His client was not a high-ranking officer, others of higher rank were not prosecuted, and his identity was not proven beyond a doubt.”
Schuetz pleaded “not guilty” throughout the trial, which began last month.
Schuetz acted like the victim
According to the Wiesenthal Center’s Dr. Efraim Zuroff, “the real drama came from the accused, who cried as if he were the real victim and said that he had no connection to the crimes perpetrated in the camp. Not one word from him about the suffering and the tragedy of the prisoners.”
Schuetz is considered to be the oldest person to stand trial over participation in Nazi war crimes during the Holocaust.
"The real drama came from the accused, who cried as if he were the real victim and said that he had no connection to the crimes perpetrated in the camp."Dr. Epraim Zuroff
The Sachsenhausen concentration camp, active between 1936 and 1945, was mainly a prison for political prisoners such as Joseph Stalin’s oldest son, and prime ministers from European countries and their families. Sachsenhausen had an active gas chamber and an area where medical experimentation took place. In 2009, 83-year-old Josias Kumpf was deported from Wisconsin back to Austria after it was known that he was an SS Guard at the Sachsenhausen and Trawniki camps.
Prosecuting former Nazis used to be more difficult
“I’m happy that he got the maximum sentence for service in an SS camp,” Zuroff said after leaving the courthouse on Tuesday.
He said that until 13 years ago, in order to prosecute former Nazi soldiers “you needed to prove it was a crime against a specific victim and that it was on racial background.” Zuroff said that “made it almost impossible to prosecute anyone.”
The law was changed, and since then, there have been many Nazi perpetrators who served in camps with a high mortality rate who were sentenced.
“The chances for him to sit in jail are slim because he is 101,” Zuroff said. “I want to see an element of punishment in addition to the verdict. The passage of time doesn’t diminish his actions. These trials help fight Holocaust denial and distortion.”