Holocaust trial: Germany tries former SS guard at Stutthof camp

Johann R in court in Muenster, 6 NovemberImage copyright EPA
Image caption The face of the defendant, seen here in court, has been obscured by court order

A former SS guard has gone on trial in Germany accused of complicity in mass murder at a Nazi death camp during World War Two.

Named only as Johann R by authorities, the 94-year-old served in the Stutthof camp in what is now northern Poland from June 1942 to September 1944.

He denies knowing anything about atrocities committed there.

Because he was not yet aged 21, he is being tried in a juvenile court in Muenster, western Germany.

He faces a sentence of 15 years if convicted but the wheelchair-bound defendant is unlikely to serve any actual time in prison because of his advanced age.

His court appearances will be limited to two hours at a time for the same reason, Dortmund prosecutor Andreas Brendel told AFP news agency.

What are the accusations?

More than 100 Polish prisoners were gassed at the camp on 21 and 22 June 1944, as well as “probably several hundred” Jewish prisoners who were killed between August and December 1944.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Stutthof has been preserved as a museum
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Crematorium at Stutthof
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Bunks for inmates at Stutthof

The defendant is “accused in his capacity as a guard of participating in the killing operations”, said Mr Brendel.

“Many people were gassed, shot or left to die of hunger,” he added.

What was Stutthof?

Image copyright Stutthof Museum
Image caption SS leader Heinrich Himmler (centre) visited Stutthof

Located near the city of Danzig (now Gdansk), it was originally an internment camp before being officially designated a concentration camp in 1942.

From June 1944, prisoners were murdered in a gas chamber.

More than 65,000 people died in Stutthof before it was liberated by the Soviet Army on 9 May 1945.

Who is the defendant?

Johann R was captured by the US Army after the war but returned to civilian life, working as a landscape architect for the North Rhine-Westphalia state authorities.

Questioned by police last year, he denied knowing about atrocities in the camp.

“If one looks at how many evil doings and crimes were perpetuated, one can understand why elderly people too have to face prosecution,” said Mr Brendel.

“Germany owes it to the families and victims to prosecute these Nazi crimes even today. That is a legal and moral question.”

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