A 101-year-old man was convicted Tuesday of more than 3,500 counts of accessory to murder as a Nazi concentration camp guard and sentenced by a German court to five years in prison, the Associated Press reported.
What are the details?
The man — identified internationally as Josef Schuetz and in Germany as Josef S. due to privacy laws, the Washington Post reported — denied serving as an SS guard at the Sachsenhausen camp during World War II, the AP said.
Rather he said he was a farm laborer near Pasewalk in northeastern Germany at the time, the outlet added.
But the Neuruppin Regional Court considered it proven that he worked at the camp near Berlin between 1942 and 1945 as an enlisted member of the Nazi Party’s paramilitary wing, the AP said, citing 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,” presiding Judge Udo Lechtermann said, the AP said, citing dpa.
Lechtermann added that "you willingly supported this mass extermination with your activity. You watched deported people being cruelly tortured and murdered there every day for three years," the AP reported.
The outlet said prosecutors based their case on documents about an SS guard with the man’s name, date of birth, and place of birth, as well as on other documents.
After the five-year prison sentence was announced, defense attorney Stefan Waterkamp said he would appeal the verdict, the AP said, citing dpa.
'They were part of the system'
“Even if the defendant will probably not serve the full prison sentence due to his advanced age, the verdict is to be welcomed,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the AP.
Schuster added to the outlet that "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.”
The AP said the trial was held in a gymnasium in Brandenburg/Havel, where the the 101-year-old man lives. The outlet added that he was fit to stand trial only in a limited manner and could do so only for about two and a half hours daily. Proceedings were interrupted several times for health reasons and hospital stays, the AP also said.
Efraim Zuroff, head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s office in Jerusalem, added to the AP that the sentence “sends a message that if you commit such crimes, even decades later, you might be brought to justice."
Zuroff added to the outlet that "it’s a very important thing because it gives closure to the relatives of the victims. The fact that these people all of a sudden feel that their loss is being addressed, and the suffering of their family who they lost in the camps is being addressed ... is a very important thing.”
The man's verdict is based on recent legal precedent in Germany saying that anyone who helped a Nazi camp operate can be prosecuted as an accessory to murder, the AP said.
A trial commenced in late September for a 96-year-old woman who allegedly was the secretary for the SS commandant of the Stutthof concentration camp, the outlet noted.