Germany: verdict awaited for the oldest accused of Nazi crimes

Germany: Verdict awaited for oldest accused of Nazi crimes


A verdict for history: the trial of the oldest defendant of Nazi crimes, Josef Schütz, 101, on trial since October for abuses he is accused of having committed when he was a guard in a German camp, ends on Tuesday. 

This former Waffen SS non-commissioned officer is being prosecuted for “complicity” in the murder of 3,518 prisoners when he operated between 1942 and 1945 in the Sachsenhausen camp, then north of Berlin.

He risks up to five years in prison, a symbolic sentence that he will probably not serve because of his advanced age.

Never during the thirty hearings at the court of Brandenburg-on-the -Havel (east), several times postponed due to his fragile health, he will not have expressed the slightest regret. 

On the contrary, on Monday he again denied any involvement, wondering “why he was there”, and affirmed that “everything is false” about him.

Josef Schütz has advanced several stories about his past, sometimes contradictory. “Everything is torn” in my head, he even slipped at the opening of the hearing before being interrupted by his lawyer.

Lately, he claimed to have left Lithuania at the start of the Second World War to join Germany where he would have worked as an agricultural laborer throughout the conflict: “I uprooted trees, planted trees”, he said. he explained at the bar, swearing that he never wore a German uniform, but “work overalls”.

A version disputed by several historical documents mentioning in particular his name, date and place of birth proving that he had indeed been assigned from the end of 1942 to the beginning of 1945 to the “Totenkopf” (Death's Head) division of the Waffen-SS.

“Complicity in systematic murders”

After the war, he was transferred to a prison camp in Russia and later settled in Brandenburg, a region neighboring Berlin. He was successively a peasant, then a locksmith and was never worried.

Aged 21 at the start of the charges, he is notably suspected of having shot Soviet prisoners, of “helping of complicity in systematic murders” by Zyklon B gas and “by holding prisoners in hostile conditions”.

During his indictment in mid-May, Attorney General Cyrill Klement considered “fully confirmed the evidence of the prosecution”, accusing him of not only having accommodated himself to the conditions of the camp, but of having made a career there.< /p>

There is “no doubt that Mr. Schütz worked in Sachsenhausen”, he insisted, before requesting a sentence greater than the minimum of three years in prison for complicity in murder.

“A sentence of less than five years could only be accepted by the civil parties at the cost of great difficulty”, judged in his argument Thomas Walther, the lawyer for eleven of the sixteen civil parties in this trial, including seven survivors. /p>

If Mr. Schütz were to be convicted, his lawyer Stefan Waterkamp — who pleaded for his acquittal — told AFP that he intended to appeal, making any imprisonment even more unlikely.< /p>

Late Justice

Between its opening in 1936 and its liberation by the Soviets on April 22, 1945, the Sachsenhausen camp saw some 200,000 prisoners, mainly political opponents, Jews and homosexuals. 

Dozens thousands of them perished, victims mainly of exhaustion due to forced labor and the cruel conditions of detention.

After having long shown little eagerness to try all the perpetrators of Nazi crimes, the germany has been expanding its investigations for ten years. Camp guards and other executors of the Nazi machinery can be prosecuted on the charge of complicity in murder.

In recent years, four former SS men have been convicted on this count.

This late trial makes it possible to “reaffirm the political and moral responsibility of individuals in an authoritarian context, and in a criminal regime, at a time when the neo-fascist far right is strengthening everywhere in Europe”, told AFP Guillaume Mouralis, CNRS research director and member of the Marc Bloch Center in Berlin.