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100-Year-Old German Accused of War Crimes

It has been estimated that 6 million Jews and 1 million non-Jews were killed during the Nazi Holocaust. Around 20,000 collaborators have been charged for this tragedy, with 600 receiving high sentences. Beginning with the widely known Nuremberg Trials of 1945 and 1946, trials for war crimes committed during the Holocaust have persisted into the 21st Century. Currently, there are seven cases being investigated by local German officials.

In one current case, the German Central Office for Investigating Nazi War Crimes spent 18 months investigating a former Schutzstaffel prison guard at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside of Berlin.  Over 200,000 prisoners were held at the Sachsenhausen prison camp from 1936 to 1945 and tens of thousands of them were reported to have died from starvation, disease, forced labor, medical experiments and mistreatment. Through the searching of the Sachsenhausen records and Moscow Military Archives it was determined that the guard would have been present and an active participant in crimes that “include the shooting of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942, aiding and abetting the murder of prisoners through the use of poison gas, as well as other shootings and the killing of prisoners by creating and maintaining hostile conditions in the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp.” 

The 100-hundred-year-old former guard has been deemed fit to stand trial for 3,518 counts of accessory to murder and currently awaits the 22 two-hour trial dates that have been set to determine his fate. This case has become important due to the decreasing amount of war criminals that can be found accountable for former crimes since many former criminals are now deceased or found not fit to stand trial. In order to be found able to stand trial, you have to be of sound mind to comprehend the nature and purpose of the legal proceedings. If prosecuted, the former guard would be expected to serve prison time. Though the amount of jail time he would serve is dependent on the trial proceedings he is still expected to serve considerable penance for his crimes. The seriousness of this case and others like it reminds us that the atrocities of history withstand the test of time. 

With the aging population of the perpetrators of war crimes from World War II, it has become an imperative effort of the German government to bring those guilty to justice.  Author Mary Fulbrook discusses the lackluster amount of Nazi conviction during the 20th Century in her book “Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice.”  Fulbrook writes, “The total number of persons convicted under the Federal Republic for Nazi crimes was in itself fewer even than the number of people who had been employed at Auschwitz alone.”  She also blames the post-War German court systems, often populated with former Nazi party members, for the small number and lesser sentences and convictions. She later notes that the courts would often cite soldiers as “just following orders” and claiming to make prisoner’s deaths easier as factors that lessen convictions.

Another point Fulbrook mentions in her book is the continued recompense and intensity that newer generations with less influence from Nazism have on the finding and prosecution of former Nazis. Fulbrook explains, “New generations in the unified Federal Republic of Germany of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century have sought to make amends for the dilatory conduct of previous generations by seeking with renewed energy to try to track down and bring to court every last Nazi.” This commitment to placing accountability on war criminals serves as a permanent reminder of the value of seeking justice and the importance of remembrance—not only of the crimes perpetrated but the people who committed them and their lasting impact on humanity.