Germany has convicted a 101-year-old man on more than 3,500 counts of accessory to murder for serving in the Nazi concentration camp at Sachsenhausen during World War II.
- The 101-year-old former camp guard was sentenced to five years for his role in the Holocaust
- Leading Jewish groups in Germany and Israel applaud the conviction, although the defendant’s lawyers plan to appeal.
- Between 40,000 and 50,000 people are likely to have died in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp between 1936 and 1945.
The Neuruppin Regional Court sentenced the former camp guard to five years in prison, although the man, identified by local media only as Josef S, denied working as an SS guard at the camp or taking part in the murder of thousands of prisoners.
Located on the outskirts of Berlin, Sachsenhausen was established in 1936 and was intended to be a model facility for Nazi death camps throughout occupied Europe.
More than 200,000 people were detained there between 1936 and 1945, with tens of thousands of inmates dying of hunger, disease, and forced labor, among other causes, including medical experiments and systematic mass killings.
The centenarian defendant claimed he had worked as a farmhand during that time, however the court believes he worked at the camp between 1942 and 1945 as an enlisted member of the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party.
“He voluntarily supported this mass extermination with his activity,” the presiding judge said.
“You saw deported people being cruelly tortured and killed there every day for three years.”
Prosecutors had based their case on records relating to an SS guard with the same name, date and place of birth as the defendant, as well as other documentation.
While estimates of the exact number killed in the Sachsenhausen camp vary.
Higher estimates run as high as 100,000, while scholars suggest figures of 40,000 to 50,000 are more likely.
The defendant’s lawyer had requested acquittal and now plans to appeal the verdict.
Given the defendant’s advanced age, the trial was held in a gym near the 101-year-old man’s place of residence, where he was only able to participate in the trial for about two and a half hours each day.
The process was interrupted several times for health reasons and hospital stays.
Despite these factors, Germany’s main Jewish group welcomes the ruling.
“Even if the defendant will probably not serve the full prison sentence due to his advanced age, the verdict is welcome,” said the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
“The thousands of people who worked in the concentration camps kept the killing machine going. They were part of the system, so they should take responsibility,” he added.
“It is bitter that the defendant denied his activities at the time to the end and showed no remorse.”
The verdict comes on the heels of recent legal precedent in Germany that anyone who helped run a Nazi camp could be prosecuted for being an accessory to murders committed inside it.
A separate case of a 96-year-old woman accused of working as a secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp went to trial in September, where the defendant in that case was charged with more than 11,000 counts of accessory to murder.