Can a concentration camp secretary’s complicity in thousands of murders be proven 76 years after the end of the war? The Itzehoe Regional Court will face many challenges with the trial.
A good year after the conviction of a former security guard in the Stutthof concentration camp, there is likely to be another trial of the crimes in the German concentration camp near Danzig.
The Itzehoe regional court in Schleswig-Holstein admitted an indictment against a former secretary of the camp commandant on Friday, a spokeswoman said. As a shorthand typist and typist, the now 96-year-old is said to have helped with the systematic killing of prisoners. The trial for complicity in murder in more than 11,000 cases is due to begin on September 30th before a youth chamber because the defendant was only 18 to 19 years old between June 1943 and April 1945.
An expert opinion commissioned by the court came to the conclusion in June that the 96-year-old is able to negotiate. It was only last March that the Wuppertal district court refused to open a trial against a suspected former SS guard in Stutthof. According to a medical report, the defendant, who is also 96 years old, is permanently incapable of standing, a court spokesman said. The elderly had been accused of complicity in murder in several hundred cases.
A trial against another former security guard in Stutthof ended a year ago in Hamburg. The regional court sentenced the 93-year-old Bruno D. to two years probation. On July 23, 2020, the court found him guilty of complicity in murder in 5,230 cases – at least as many prisoners were, according to the youth chamber, murdered in Stutthof during the defendant’s service from August 1944 to April 1945. 30 were killed in a secret shot in the neck in the camp’s crematorium. At least 200 were killed in the gas chamber and in a locked train car with Zyklon B. At least 5000 people died as a result of the hostile conditions in the so-called Jewish camp of Stutthof.
Bruno D. was assigned to guard the prisoners in 1944 as a Wehrmacht soldier who was not fit for the front. The 17-year-old stood on a watchtower with a rifle and saw the atrocities in the camp. He described that to the court. He emphasized that he had not volunteered for the mission. ‘You watched this death then and guarded it,’ said the presiding judge Anne Meier-Göring when the verdict was pronounced. The accused had been a recipient of orders, but he was not allowed to participate in Stutthof. ‘You should have tried to escape and you could have withdrawn.’
Since the sentence had been suspended on probation, the defendant waived an appeal against the judgment, as his defense attorney Stefan Waterkamp explained. Otherwise, his client would have gone to appeal like any other very elderly defendant in Nazi trials, if only to gain time. ‘These are unlikely to survive an execution of sentences.’
The Hamburg trial had dragged on for nine months. Negotiations had to take place under corona conditions since March 2020. Former Stutthof prisoners from Poland, Israel and France reported daily abuse, executions, hunger and a typhus epidemic.
The appearance of a witness from the USA caused a sensation, who stated that his mother of Jewish descent gave birth to him in Stutthof. The 76-year-old told his life story and finally hugged the accused in a demonstrative gesture of reconciliation – with the approval of the presiding judge.
Weeks later, however, research by the news magazine “Der Spiegel” shook the witness’s credibility. Thereupon the court also researched and found out ‘that the lecture may not be partially correct,’ as Meier-Göring said. According to a law professor who represented a Stutthof survivor as a joint plaintiff, after ten minutes of Internet research it could have been determined that the witnesses’ representations made no sense.
The Itzehoe Regional Court is now also facing major challenges: If the last survivors of the camp are to be heard as witnesses again, time is of the essence. Hardly any of them can still travel. The defendant will have to be brought from her retirement home to the trial room for each day of the trial. According to lawyers, proving guilt would be more difficult with a former civil employee than with a security guard who was part of the SS.
According to the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Ludwigsburg, in addition to another indictment against a 100-year-old in Neuruppin, ten preliminary investigations are pending with German public prosecutors, including in Erfurt, Weiden, Celle and Hamburg. Preliminary investigations are underway against six other people, most of whom were deployed in prisoner-of-war camps.