German prosecutors have recommended a five-year prison sentence for a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person charged with complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.
Josef Schütz has pleaded not guilty, disputing any involvement in the murders of 3,518 prisoners at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945. But prosecutors in Brandenburg state said on Tuesday that he “knowingly and willingly” participated in the crimes as a guard at the camp.
More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, regime opponents and gay people, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1936 and 1945. Tens of thousands died from forced labour, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.
Cross-examined about his work at the camp, Schütz denied he had knowledge about what happened there, and insisted he had done “absolutely nothing”.
The allegations against him include aiding and abetting the “execution by firing squad of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942” and the murder of prisoners “using the poisonous gas Zyklon B”.
Schütz has remained at liberty during the trial. If convicted, he is highly unlikely to be put behind bars given his age.
Thomas Walther, who represents civil plaintiffs, said the trial was important even at this late date. “It is important to set an example. After decades of errors, the very careful procedure has shown that German justice has learned something.”
More than seven decades after the second world war, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice. The 2011 conviction of the former guard John Demjanjuk on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine set a legal precedent and paved the way to several of these twilight justice cases.
Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused. Among those brought to late justice were Oskar Gröning, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz. Both were convicted at the age of 94 of complicity in mass murder but died before they could be imprisoned.
Another former SS guard, Bruno Dey, was found guilty at the age of 93 in 2020 and given a two-year suspended sentence.
In the northern German town of Itzehoe, a 96-year-old former secretary in a Nazi death camp is on trial for complicity in murder. She fled before the start of her trial but was caught several hours later.
Schütz’s trial began in 2021, but several hearings have had to be postponed because of his health. A verdict is expected in early June.