A 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person charged with complicity in the murder of thousands of detainees, claimed in court he was just a farmhand who worked nearby.
The centenarian, identified only as Josef S, appeared in court on Thursday charged with ‘knowingly and willingly’ assisting in murder of 3,518 people at the Sachsenhausen death camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1942.
According to him, he said he had been working on an estate near Pasewalk resettlement center. Here he learned as a locksmith and blacksmith. Also, he sailed horses for farmers.
Judges and claimants were trying to convince the defendant that he was in fact an SS Guard at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
The 101-year old insists that he is a civilian, even though documents show that a male with the same name and birth date worked at Sachsenhausen between October 1941 and February 1945.
He is charged with aiding and abetting execution by firing squad Soviet prisoner of war 1942 and murdering prisoners using the poisonous gas Zyklon A.
Between 1936 and 1945 the Sachsenhausen camp held more than 200 000 people, which included Jews, Roma and regime critics as well as gay men.
The Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum reports that tens to thousands of camp inmates were killed by forced labour, murder or medical experiments before Soviet troops freed them.
Josef S, 101, is the oldest person ever put on trial for Nazi-era crimes but yesterday claimed in court he was just a farmhand, not an officer at Sachsenhausen death camp
Josef S arrived at court yesterday. He claimed that he’d worked “on a large property near Pasewalk resettlement Camp”, where he learned as a locksmith, blacksmith and saddled horses for farmers.
Josef S. yesterday acknowledged that he participated in the German defense effort when the Russian army advanced eastward in spring 1945. However, he claimed that he was a civilian.
Judge Udo Lechtermann (66) asked him this question: “Did I only get a uniform, and a pistol then?” This is the first time.
He replied, “Nah, it’s not that.” I used a spade to help dig trenches. I shoveled soil and cut down trees until everyone was arrested by the Russians. Then to jail.
But, the judge gave his East German Pension Documentation, which read: “From 1941 to 1945 military service.”
Josef S stated that he signed the forms, but not having read them.
Yesterday, Gudrun L (70-year-old) was present. She was one of the stepdaughters of the older man and was quoted as saying that she had not been in contact with him in decades. However, Gudrun was shocked to hear what he did. That’s why I am here, I would like to see it myself in court.
The trial is taking place at a gym converted into a courtroom in the town of Brandenburg an der Havel in the German state of Brandenburg.
One hour drive from Berlin’s capital, the town was where Nazis first experimented in using gas to kill their victims.
His East German pension paperwork, which read: “From 1941 to 1945 military service,” was presented by the judge. Josef S (pictured in court yesterday), claimed that he did not read the forms properly and signed them.
Josef, left (October) was declared fit for trial last October by a medical inspector. However, due to his advanced age the court will not sit for more than a few hours per day.
Josef claimed he was innocent and said he had done nothing.
“I did nothing in Sachsenhausen.” Josef at the hearing stated that I was innocent because I don’t have any information about it.
Josef S. stated that ‘Everything’ was missing from his head as he claimed he was alone in the dock.
After declaring at the beginning of the case that his client wouldn’t respond, his defence lawyer refused to allow Josef questions about his life in World War II and his time at Camp Josef.
It is important that he refused to talk about the camp because trials of ex-guards offer a chance for new evidence to be collected about Nazi death camps.
Oskar Groening (‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz”) was one other guard who spoke out during the trials about their actions at Auschwitz camps.
Arriving alone at the hearing with his walking aid, Josef S recounted in detail his past, including his work at his family’s farm in Lithuania with his seven siblings before his enrolment in the army in 1938.
He was detained in Russia after the war and sent to another camp. After that, he was taken to Brandenburg in Germany. There he became a farmer before becoming a locksmith.
He spoke clearly, sharing his childhood birthdays and stories about his wife.
Since 1986, the widower said: “My wife said always that there’s no man in the universe like you,”
Josef is still free throughout the trial. His age makes it unlikely that he will be convicted.
The Auschwitz Committee executive vice-president expressed his disappointment when the lawyer announced that the suspect would not respond to the allegations.
“I was surprised at how strong and open he seemed to me. Christoph Heubner stated that Heubner would be able to apologize and would remember.
‘Obviously, however he is not willing to have the strength to forget, and for those survivors from the camps, as well the families of the murder who came here to hear the truth, this signifies once again a rejection and a denigration, along with a confrontation and the continual silence of SS.
It is anticipated that the case will continue to January.
Josef S served at the Sachsenhausen camp (pictured) from 1942 until 1945, and is accused of complicity in 3,518 murders that happened during his time there
Germany is currently hunting for former Nazi staff members since John Demjanjuk’s 2011 conviction, based on his role in Hitler’s death machine.
Since then, several guilty verdicts for these reasons have been rendered by the courts. They are not related to murders and atrocities that were directly connected with the person accused.
Oskar Groening (an accountant at Auschwitz) and Reinhold Hanning (a former SS guard at Auschwitz), were among those who were brought to justice.
At the age of 95, they were found guilty of complicity for mass murder. However, both died before they could be sentenced.
Bruno Dey, a former SS Guard was found guilty of the crime at the tender age of 93. He was sentenced to a two year suspended sentence.
According to the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, eight additional cases are being investigated by the authorities.
A separate trial is underway in Itzehoe in northern Germany for a former secretary at a Nazi death camp.
She fled dramatically before she was allowed to begin her trial. However, it wasn’t until several hours later that she was finally caught.