Ludwigsburg (dpa) – The last remaining concentration camp guards are to be tried. Currently 17 suspects are at the center of the judicial authorities. It concerns the charge of complicity in murder, as Chief Prosecutor Thomas Will says. He heads the Central Bureau for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in Ludwigsburg.
The trials of two former concentration camp workers will begin in the fall. A 96-year-old woman who worked as a secretary in the Stutthof concentration camp has been charged before the Itzehoe regional court in Schleswig-Holstein. An almost 101-year-old former guard from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp will probably have to answer to the Neuruppin court in Brandenburg.
Nine suspicious cases are pending at the public prosecutor’s offices in Erfurt, Weiden, Hamburg and Neuruppin and at the public prosecutor’s office in Celle, Will said. The central office also conducts preliminary investigations in six other cases.
Issue of the ability to negotiate
In the final phase of the Second World War, the suspects were mainly used for surveillance in concentration camps. You are 95 years of age and older – age is one of the most important factors in an examination. Authorities are repeatedly confronted with the issue of the ability to negotiate, Will says. In a case that was brought before the regional court of Wuppertal, it was precisely because of this that it did not go to court.
In the case of the very old man in Neuruppin, for example, it was stipulated that a day of trial should not exceed two and a half hours, a spokesman for the regional court said. Investigations have to be halted time and again because suspects have since died, most recently in a case in Erfurt.
Guarding inmates in a concentration camp or POW camp makes it possible to be charged with complicity in murder, Will explains. The decisive impetus for this was the case of John Demjanjuk. The former Nazi warrant recipient was sentenced to five years in prison in Munich in 2011 at the age of 91 for complicity in murder in more than 28,000 cases. As a guard, Demjanjuk was part of the Nazi destruction machine, the judges found.
In trials of Nazi criminals in the 1960s and 1970s, former security guards were heard as witnesses, but they were not on the dock, Will says. At the time, the investigation focused on those specifically involved in murders.
The Demjanjuk case brought a turning point
Attempts have also been made to take “the cosmos of helpers and accomplices” to court, but have not been successful. In addition, “If you had instructed security guards who had been called as witnesses as possible suspects, they would probably have said nothing more.” The Demjanjuk case marked a turning point: Three other men have since been convicted — most recently last year — for helping with their security duties, Will says.
In investigations into complicity in murder, it is crucial that it was clear to the guards that murders were being committed systematically – or that the inmates in a concentration camp or POW camp were undersupplied and doomed to die.
And just as murder has never been barred under German law since 1979, complicity in murder does not expire if it involves the murder characteristics of treason or cruelty, as Thomas Will explains. Death by gassing or starvation and exhaustion is cruelty by legal standards – shooting an unsuspecting person from behind, for example, is considered treason.
Often difficult research
The researchers’ research is time-consuming. In the case of a suspect who worked in the Flossenbürg concentration camp, the decisive clue was found in the Czech military archives in Prague. As a result, passports of former SS members had been put on the internet, including the 96-year-old’s identity card.
Another important source is the military archives in Moscow, Will says. But informative documents can also be found in concentration camp memorials. In addition, many security guards who have previously been heard as witnesses can already be found in the extensive card register of the exchange.
Useful documents previously unknown keep appearing: Recently, for example, a historian researched a list of personnel from a POW camp and forwarded it to Ludwigsburg.
Many of the former concentration camp workers are said to have moved their jobs over the years, Will says. “It’s just not talked about.” The spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office of Neuruppin agrees and adds: so far he has never really regretted it. They usually state that they had “no other choice”. An argument that often does not hold up in court.