Ex-Nazi death camp guard, 96, charged with complicity

2017-10-20 14:48
Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former SS guard at Auschwitz. (AP)

Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former SS guard at Auschwitz. (AP)

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Berlin – German prosecutors on Friday charged a 96-year-old former SS guard at a Nazi death camp with complicity in the murder of detainees, in one of the last criminal cases linked to the Holocaust.

The man, who was not named, was 22 years old when he worked at the extermination camp Majdanek in occupied Poland between August 1943 and January 1944.

He was a member of the fifth company of the SS Death's Head unit, which was regularly deployed as guards and tasked with monitoring and maintaining order at the camp.

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"According to available information, the accused, as well as other SS members of the camp, knew about the cruelty of the organised mass killings," said prosecutors in the German city of Frankfurt.

"He should have known that the people were killed out of racist and despicable motives," they added.

The former guard, who now lives in Frankfurt, was in particular allegedly involved in the so-called "Operation Harvest Festival", in which at least 17 000 Jews were shot in November 1943 in graves that the victims themselves were made to dig.

New standard of evidence

"He knowingly and willingly contributed to these insidious and cruel acts," added the prosecutors.

Seventy years after the trials of top Nazis began in Nuremberg, Germany is racing against time to prosecute the last Third Reich criminals to make up for decades of neglect.

However, many cases fail to end up in court because the elderly defendants are often deemed no longer fit for trial.

READ: Ex-Auschwitz guard, 94, guilty on over 170 000 counts

Only four were taken to court in the last seven years, including John Demjanjuk in 2011, Oskar Groening in 2015 and Reinhold Hanning last year – all convicted of complicity in mass murder.

The trial against a fourth, Hubert Zafke, collapsed in September after being repeatedly delayed for medical reasons.

All these recent cases were tried using a new standard of evidence: that it was sufficient to work at a death camp to be prosecuted, even without proof of a link to specific deaths.

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