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Ex-Nazi Guard, 100, To Stand Trial


August 3, 2021

By Kevan James.


A 100-year-old man will stand trial in October accused of 3,518 counts of accessory to murder following allegations that he served as a Nazi SS guard at a concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin during World War II.


He is alleged to have been working at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1942 and 1945 as an enlisted member of the Nazi Party’s paramilitary wing. The centenarian - whose name has not been revealed in line with German privacy laws - is considered fit enough to stand trial, despite his age.


Neuruppin state court said on Monday that the trial is set to begin in early October. The court was handed the case in 2019 by the special federal prosecutors’ office in Ludwigsburg tasked with investigating Nazi-era war crimes. The state court in Neuruppin is based northwest of the town of Oranienburg, where Sachsenhausen was located. The defendant is said to live in the state of Brandenburg outside of Berlin, local media reported.


Sachsenhausen was established in 1936 just north of Berlin as the first new camp after Adolf Hitler gave the SS full control of the Nazi concentration camp system. It was intended to be a model facility and training camp for the network that the Nazis built across Germany, Austria and the occupied territories.


More than 200,000 people were held there between 1936 and 1945. Tens of thousands of inmates died of starvation, disease, forced labour and other causes, as well as through medical experiments and systematic SS extermination operations including shootings, hangings and gassing.


Opinion

Whilst there is something to be said for never giving up the pursuit for justice, the question must also be asked; for how many years does one pursue people; after how long does one call a halt to chasing alleged offenders? Particularly given that after decades have passed, such people - who it must be remembered, are not guilty of anything until hard evidence is shown in a court of law - are at best, getting on a bit, at worst of an age when they can reasonably be expected to die sooner rather than later.


One of the supposed aspects to humanity is our ability to be humane and above all, forgiving; to juxtapose a requirement for justice with an equal need for some common sense and discretion. Sadly, many legal systems, not least in the United Kingdom, seem more concerned with revenge and not justice - there is a difference between the two.


In this instance, there seems little to be gained in prosecuting an old man of 100 years of age, for alleged crimes that may have occurred 76 years and more ago. Granted the period was a very dark time in Germany's history but assuming that seven-and-a-half decades can still provide reliable, robust and trustworthy evidence and guilt is proven, what will the sentence be?


These court proceedings will be somewhat meaningless if the result is no further action. No prison sentence, no nothing, other than labelling this man as a criminal for however few years he may have left. He may even die before or during proceedings


It seems to me that, unless this man can be shown to have been a leading figure in mass murder, directly involved personally in killing large numbers of people, there is nothing of value in a full-blown trial in a court of law.


Here in the UK, we have, over the last ten years or so, become rather obsessed ourselves with pursuing the alleged perpetrators of crimes said to have been committed a lifetime ago. In some cases as much as half a century or even more, in the past.


Large numbers of men - and they are all men - have been declared as sex offenders based only on the words of those who claim to be victims. Many of these alleged offenders are dead, old age having caught up with them, and it is only after their deaths that allegations have been made. A dead man cannot be put on trial and cannot defend himself.


That is not justice. And neither is it justice to put old men, some in their eighties and nineties, in prison.


If genuinely guilty, and proven beyond all doubt (not merely reasonable doubt) then by all means impose a suitable sanction and after a more appropriate course than the standard court trial. There are better ways of dealing with this than that.



Image - the gate of Sachsenhausen, inscribed with the phrase 'Arbeit macht frei' (work sets you free)

via Euronews / AP




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