A 101-year-old former Nazi The concentration camp guard was convicted in Germany on Tuesday of more than 3,500 cases of complicity in murder – and became the oldest person to date held responsible for crimes related to the Holocaust.
The Neuruppin Regional Court sentenced Josef Schütz to five years in prison, though he is unlikely to serve behind bars due to his poor health, advanced age and lengthy appeals process.
Schütz had denied having worked as a Schutzstaffel guard in the Sachsenhausen camp and aided in the murder of 3,518 prisoners.
In the trial, which opened in October, the centenarian said he had worked as a farm worker near Pasewalk in northeastern Germany during the period in question and never wore a German uniform.
However, the court considered it proven that as a 21-year-old he worked in the camp on the outskirts of Berlin between 1942 and 1945 as a recruited member of the Nazi party’s paramilitary wing, It writes the German news agency dpa.
“The court has come to the conclusion that, contrary to what you claim, you worked in the concentration camp as a guard for about three years,” said court president Udo Lechtermann, according to the DPA. He added that the accused had thereby helped with the Nazi terror and murder mechanism.
“You willingly supported this mass extermination with your activity,” Lechtermann said. “You saw deported people being cruelly tortured and murdered there every day for three years.”
Prosecutors had based their case on documents relating to an SS guard with Schütz’s name, date of birth and place of birth, as well as other documents.
The five-year prison sentence was in line with the prosecution’s demands.
Defendant’s attorney had filed for dismissal. Defense lawyer Stefan Waterkamp said after the verdict that he would appeal the verdict, the dpa stated.
“There has been an enormous amount of memory work, great work on what happened in this camp, which was almost forgotten,” said Lili Grumbach, a granddaughter of one of Sachsenhausen’s prisoners. “The important thing here today was that he was proven guilty.”
Germany’s leading Jewish group also welcomed the verdict.
“Although the defendant is unlikely to serve the full prison sentence due to his advanced age, the sentence is to be welcomed,” said Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
“The thousands of people who worked in the concentration camps kept the murder machinery running. They were part of the system, so they should take responsibility for it, ”Schuster added. “It is bitter that the defendant has denied his activities at that time until the end and has shown no remorse.”
Schütz was determined to be fit to stand trial to a limited extent, attending the nine-month trial for only about two and a half hours each day. The course was interrupted several times for health reasons and hospital stays.
Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s office in Jerusalem, said the verdict “sends a message that if you commit such crimes, even decades later, you could be brought to justice.”
“And it’s a very important thing because it closes the relatives to the victims,” Zuroff added. “The fact that these people suddenly feel that their losses are being treated and that the suffering of their family that they lost in the camps is being treated … is a very important thing.”
Sachsenhausen was established in 1936 just north of Berlin as the first new site after Adolf Hitler gave the SS full control of the Nazi concentration camp system.
More than 200,000 people were detained there between 1936 and 1945. Tens of thousands of inmates died of starvation, disease, forced labor and other causes, as well as through medical experiments and systematic SS extermination operations, including shootings, hangings and gassing with Cyclone-B.
The exact numbers of those killed vary, with upper estimates of around 100,000, though researchers suggest figures of 40,000 to 50,000 are likely to be more accurate.
In the early years, most inmates were either political prisoners or criminals, but they also included some Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals. The first large group of Jewish prisoners was brought there in 1938 after the so-called Night of Broken Glass, or Crystal Night, an anti-Semitic pogrom.
During the war, Sachsenhausen was expanded to include Soviet prisoners of war – who were shot in the thousands – as well as others.
As in other camps, Jewish prisoners were designated in Sachsenhausen for particularly harsh treatment, and most who remained alive in 1942 were sent to the Auschwitz death camp.
With Post wires