Ex-Concentration Camp Guard Sentenced to Five Years in Prison By German Court

Photo Credit: TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP / Getty Images

A 101-year-old German man has been found guilty of 3,518 counts of accessory to murder for serving as an SS guard at Sachsenhausen concentration camp during the Second World War. The verdict and subsequent sentencing of five years in prison was handed down by the presiding judge on June 28, 2022.

The man, who has only been identified as Josef S., was sentenced by Judge Udo Lechtermann of the Neuruppin Regional Court. Prior to the trial and throughout, the defendant denied being an SS guard and rejected the accusation that he helped facilitate the murder of thousands of individuals between 1942-45. He alleged he was working as a farmer near Pasewalk, Germany at the time.

Court officials standing and sitting at their desks
Presiding Judge Udo Lechtermann and other judges before the opening of the trial against Josef S. (Photo Credit: TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP / Getty Images)

Located in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, Sachsenhausen concentration camp operated between 1936-45. It was run by the Schutzstaffel (SS) as a model facility and training camp, and held tens of thousands of prisoners over its nearly 10 years under the control of the German paramilitary organization.

In its early years, the majority of the camp’s inmates were political prisoners, homosexuals, criminal convicts and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first group of Jewish prisoners was brought there in 1938, following Kristallnacht. Those still alive by 1942 were sent to Auschwitz. The camp later expanded to holding Soviet prisoners of war, bringing the estimated number of prisoners throughout World War II to over 200,000.

Among its most notable prisoners were Francisco Largo Caballero, the prime minister of the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War; Ukrainian national leader Stepan Bandera; and Yakov Dzhugashvili, the eldest son of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Aerial view of Sachenhausen concentration camp
Aerial view of Sachenhausen concentration camp, taken by the Royal Air Force, 1943. (Photo Credit: RAF / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Throughout the course of the war, it’s believed at least 40,000 individuals died there, with some estimates putting the number as high as 100,000. Those who didn’t die from forced medical experiments or execution often lost their lives to starvation, labor and disease.

Sachsenhausen was liberated by the Soviet Red Army in April 1945. Between then and 1950, it was part of the Soviet Occupation Zone and used by the NKVD as NKVD special camp Nr. 7, which housed German soldiers, collaborators, SS troops and other enemy combatants. During this time, around 12,000 prisoners died of disease and malnutrition.

Leon Schwarzbaum holding a family portrait
Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum shows a family picture as he arrives to observe the trial against Josef S. in Brandenburg/ Havel on October 7, 2021. (Photo Credit: TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP / Getty Images)

Josef S. went on trial in October. The proceedings were held in a gymnasium in Brandenburg/Havel, where the 101-year-old resides. Due to his health, he was only able to participate for around two-and-a-half hours each day, and the trial was interrupted numerous times due to hospital stays and other health concerns.

Prosecutors based their case on SS documents featuring his name, place and date of birth, as well as other official papers, saying the defendant served as a standing guard in the concentration camp’s watchtower. The defense argued for an acquittal.

Speaking at the end of the trial, Judge Lechtermann said, “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. You willingly supported this mass extermination with your activity. You watched deported people being cruelly tortured and murdered there every day for three years.”

“Even if the defendant will probably not serve the full prison sentence due to his advanced age, the verdict is to be welcomed,” said Josef Schuster, leader of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, following the verdict. “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.

“It is bitter that the defendant has denied his activities at that time until the end and has shown no remorse.”

Josef S. hiding his face behind a blue folder
Josef S. during his trial on over 3,500 counts of accessory to murder for his role as an SS guard at Sachenhausen concentration camp during the Second World War. (Photo Credit: TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP / Getty Images)

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Josef S. plans to appeal the verdict, according to news reports coming out of Germany.