In an effort to right some of the wrongs done during the Holocaust German prosecutors have been working around the clock to try and bring the last of the known Nazi official, still alive, to trial. The task is made doubly difficult by virtue of the fact that most of the men are now aged in their nineties, and many are unfit to stand trial due to dementia and other age-related illnesses.
In one of the latest trials, prosecutors are working to bring an unidentified 96-year-old man who allegedly guarded a death camp to trial for his part as a camp guard at Lublin-Majdanek, which was in German-occupied Poland during World War II.
The guard was a serving member of the Nazi SS during the period August 1943 to January 1944 and is being charged with complicity to murder thousands of Jewish and other ethnic minority prisoners. According to the prosecution, the guard who was then aged 22, knew the cruelty toward the prisoners, the mass killings that were taking place and that the prisoners were killed in an inhumane fashion.
Further evidence supports the fact that the guard allegedly supported the horrific events of 3rd November 1943 known as the ‘Erntefest’ or Harvest Festival. On this fateful day somewhere in the region of 43,000 prisoners were forced to dig their own mass grave before being shot and dumped in the hole. The guard allegedly formed part of the chain of guards associated with this horrendous act and so he is being charged as he “knowingly and willingly supported the malicious and cruel acts.”
The evidence that led to this trial stemmed from an investigation that came from Baden-Württemberg via the Central Office of the State Justice Administration for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes. These types of investigations have gained momentum in recent years as German prosecutors attempt to bring many more Nazi officials to trial even though they did not directly take part in the deaths of the prisoners in the camps. Since its formation in 1958, the Central Office has helped track down and prosecute almost 7,000 Nazi criminals and collaborated with the agencies of other nations to track down war criminals.
As early as the 1960s the attorney general of Hesse, Fritz Bauer had argued in trials held in Frankfurt that anyone who served at Auschwitz should be held accountable because they had been a part of the Nazi regime and indirectly contributed to the slaughter of the people held in the camps. This idea gained momentum, and in 2011 a landmark ruling in the trial of a Ukrainian Nazi guard at the Sobibor came, John Demjanjuk, made it impossible for second and third tier Nazis to hide behind the defense of ’only following orders.’ This made it clear that in the case of genocide if you were working within the apparatus that enacted the genocide, you were accessory to murder as your job was within the environment that facilitated the killing of human beings.
At a recent 2015 trial, Oskar Gröning who was known as the bookkeeper of Auschwitz was sentenced to four years in prison after being found guilty of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. Unfortunately, not all trials end successfully as many defendants are at an advanced age and their medical or mental health prevents their being brought to trial. The trial of Hubert Zafke, a medic at Auschwitz, was halted due to his mental state.
Many argue that bringing such senior men to trial is counterproductive, but the crimes against humanity perpetrated in their name cannot be forgotten nor go unpunished. Such crimes must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law at all costs irrespective of the time that has passed; they do not have a statute of limitations.