A 100-year-old former SS guard has gone on trial to face charges of helping to send more than 3,500 people to their deaths at a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.
The suspect, identified only as Josef S in keeping with German privacy rules, hobbled into the courtroom in Neuruppin, near Berlin, on a walking frame with his face partially covered by a blue folder held by his lawyer.
Prosecutors say the suspect, a member of the Nazi party’s paramilitary SS, contributed to the deaths of 3,518 people at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin between 1942 and 1945.
The suspect did not want to comment on the allegations made against him, according to his lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp.
Despite his old age, doctors have said he is partially fit to stand trial, but advised sessions to be limited to just two and a half hours each day.
The court heard that more than 200,000 people were held at Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945 – with tens of thousands dying through medical experiments as well as systematic SS extermination operations including shootings, hangings and gassing.
Others died of starvation, disease, forced labour and other causes.
Prosecutor Cyrill Klement told the court: “The defendant knowingly and willingly aided and abetted this at least by conscientiously performing guard duty, which was seamlessly integrated into the killing system.”
The exact number of people who died in the concentration camp is unknown, with upper estimates of around 100,000.
However, some scholars suggest figures of 40,000 to 50,000 are likely to be more accurate.
Leon Schwarzbaum, a 100-year-old survivor of Sachsenhausen, attended the trial as a visitor.
“This is the last trial for my friends, acquaintances and my loved ones, who were murdered, in which the last guilty person can still be sentenced – hopefully,” he told dpa news agency.
Some inmates at Sachsenhausen were killed with Zyklon-B, the poison gas also used in other extermination camps where millions of Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
The concentration camp housed predominantly political prisoners from all over Europe, along with Soviet prisoners of war and some Jews.
The opening of the trial comes after a spate of charges brought against former concentration camp guards in recent years for World War Two crimes against humanity.
Last week, a 96-year-old former secretary for the Stutthof camp’s SS commander skipped the opening of her trial at the Itzehoe state court in northern Germany.
She was tracked down within hours and proceedings are set to resume on 19 October.
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