A trial against 94-year-old Johann R began in Germany on November 6th. The charges against him are for acting as an accessory to murder during his years as a guard at Nazi concentration camp Stutthof, prosecution said.
The former SS man has to answer for his past in front of the state court in Muenster, western Germany, in one of the last Nazi-trials addressing the annihilation of Jews in Europe. The trial takes place 73 years after the end of the war, something probably neither the plaintiffs nor Johann R imagined. Over the past weeks and months, German lawyers have been working with survivors to hear their stories and collect material for the investigation.
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which helped locate some 20 Stutthof survivors for the case to serve as possible witnesses, emphasised that such trials are important, even more than 70 years after the end of World War II, AP reported.
"The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of Holocaust perpetrators and old age should not afford protection to those who committed such heinous crimes," said the centre's head Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff.
Johann R is accused of working as a guard at a concentration camp east of Danzig, today the Polish city of Gdansk, from June 1942 to around the beginning of September 1944.
He faces a sentence of 15 years if convicted. He is being tried in a juvenile court, because he was under 21 at the time of his alleged crimes. It is also unlikely the wheelchair user will serve any actual time in prison due to his advanced age and poor health.
His court appearances will be limited to two hours at a time for the same reason, prosecutor Andreas Brendel told AFP news agency.
The defendant is "accused in his capacity as a guard of participating in the killing operations,” Brendel said. "Many people were gassed, shot or left to die of hunger," he added.
The former SS guard does not deny serving in the camp during the war but has told investigators he was not aware of the killings and did not participate in them, Brendel said further.
However, the prosecution’s case is that acting as a camp guard is itself enough to be found guilty of being an accessory to murder, even without specific evidence of a crime.
The trial at the Muenster state court is scheduled to last until January.