BANDENBURG AN DER HAVEL, Germany (AP) — A German court handed down a five-year prison sentence Tuesday to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person ever to be tried for complicity in crimes. of war during the Holocaust.
Josef Schuetz was found guilty of being an accessory to murder in at least 3,500 cases while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.
It is highly unlikely that he will be put behind bars given his age.
The pensioner, who now lives in the state of Brandenburg, has pleaded not guilty, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and had not even worked at the camp.
“I don’t know why I’m here,” he said at the end of his trial on Monday.
But presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said he was convinced that Schuetz had worked in Sachsenhausen and “supported” the atrocities committed there.
“For three years, you saw prisoners being tortured and killed before your eyes,” Lechtermann said.
“Because of his position in the concentration camp watchtower, he constantly had smoke from the crematorium in his nose,” he said.
“Anyone who tried to escape from the camp was shot. So all the guards actively participated in these murders.”
More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, opponents of the regime and homosexuals, were detained in the Sachsenhausen camp between 1936 and 1945.
Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labor, murder, medical experiments, starvation or disease before Soviet troops liberated the camp, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.
– Conflicting statements –
Schuetz, who was 21 when he began working at the camp, was blank-faced when the court announced his sentence.
“I’m ready,” he said as he entered the courtroom earlier in a wheelchair, dressed in a gray shirt and striped pants.
Schuetz was not in custody during the trial, which began in 2021 but was postponed several times due to his health.
His lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, told AFP he would appeal, meaning the sentence will not be carried out until 2023 at the earliest.
Thomas Walther, the lawyer who represented 11 of the 16 civil parties in the trial, said the sentence had lived up to his expectations and “justice was done.”
But Antoine Grumbach, 80, whose father died in Sachsenhausen, said he “could never forgive” Schuetz as “any human being who faces atrocities has a duty to oppose them.”
During the trial, Schuetz had made several conflicting statements about his past, complaining that his head was “getting confused.”
At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as a farm laborer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth.
– ‘Warning to perpetrators’ –
After the war, Schuetz was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith.
More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.
The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the grounds that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several such court cases.
Since then, the courts have handed down a number of guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly related to the individual defendant.
Among those later brought to justice were Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz.
Both were convicted at the age of 94 for complicity in mass murder, but died before they could be jailed.
However, Schuetz’s five-year sentence is the longest ever imposed on a defendant in such a case.
Guillaume Mouralis, a research professor at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), told AFP the verdict was “a warning to perpetrators of massive crimes: whatever their level of responsibility, there is still legal responsibility.”
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