Earlier this week, authorities confirmed reports that a 100-year-old man had been charged in relation to 3518 counts of accessory to murder at former Nazi concentration camp, Sachsenhausen.
Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Oranienburg. Photo: Marta Moreno via Pixabay
On Monday, the Neuruppin Prosecution Service verified the story which had previously emerged on German radio station, Norddeutsche Rundfunk, according to which the accused is said to have “knowingly and willingly” played a part in mass murders committed at the camp between 1942 and 1945.
Whilst the individual’s name cannot be released at this time due to German privacy laws, Cyrill Klement, tasked with leading the investigation, has stated that the accusations refer to a 100-year-old former guard, who is also thought to have been a member of the Nazi Party’s paramilitary wing.
Situated in the Brandenburg region of Germany, it was the first new concentration camp constructed under the watch of Heinrich Himmler, Head of the SS, and is estimated to have interned over 200,000 prisoners between its construction in 1936 and its Liberation by the Allies in 1945, according to official memorial site figures.
The majority of inmates were initially German citizens belonging to social categories deemed ‘inferior’ under the Nazi regime, but as the war progressed, citizens of occupied and collaborating nations who fell under these groups were also interned, alongside political prisoners. By 1944, it is thought that approximately 90% of Sachsenhausen internees were non-German.
Despite its conception as a concentration camp, forced labour, disease, starvation, medical experiments, institutional violence, as well as mass murder operations at the local Klinkerwerk left tens of thousands of inmates dead. An extermination unit was built in 1942 and a gas chamber in 1943.
Laws introduced in Germany in the wake of the John Demjanjuk case mean that any general duties carried out at a camp known for systematic mass murder are now sufficient enough to bring a case to court. The emphasis had previously been on specific evidence pertaining to individual acts, which naturally presented considerable challenges for 21st century courts. The new rules recently saw allegations brought forth against a 95-year-old woman who worked as a secretary for the SS commandment at Stutthof concentration camp.
Questions will now be asked as to whether the former guard is in fact fit enough to go to court. According to authorities, amendments to the length of sessions may need to be considered, but the centenarian has been declared fit to stand trial. The date is yet to be confirmed.
“Die Gerechtigkeit kennt kein Verfallsdatum“
In response to the charges, Christoph Heubner, Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee founded by survivors of the concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1952, acknowledged the strength of justice: “Für die hochbetagten Überlebenden der deutschen Konzentrations- und Vernichtungslager ist auch dieser Prozess ein wichtiges Beispiel dafür, dass die Gerechtigkeit kein Verfallsdatum kennt." (“For the very elderly survivors of the German concentration and extermination camps, this trial demonstrates that justice knows no expiration date”).