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Nazi camp guard, 101, jailed for 'complicity' in 3,518 murders

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By Euronews and AFP
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Josef S. covers his face as he sits at the court room in Brandenburg, Germany, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021
Josef S. covers his face as he sits at the court room in Brandenburg, Germany, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021   -   Copyright  Credit: AFP

A former concentration camp guard, 101, has been sentenced to five years in prison for "complicity" in thousands of murders.

The man, referred to during his trial as Josef S and now identified as Josef Schütz, was the oldest person to stand accused of Nazi-era crimes. 

He was given a five-year jail term on Tuesday for complicity in the murder of 3,518 prisoners at the Sachsenhausen camp, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.

The president of the court in Brandenburg-Havel told Schütz he was "active for about three years in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where you were an accomplice to the mass murders".

"You were aware that prisoners were killed there. By your presence, you supported" these acts, he added. "Anyone who wanted to flee the camp was shot. Thus, every camp guard actively participated in the killings."

The defendant remained stoic as the sentence — higher than the three-year minimum for complicity in murder — was handed down.

"I am ready," Schütz said as he entered the courtroom earlier in a wheelchair, dressed in a grey shirt and pyjama trousers.

His lawyer had already announced that he would appeal in the event of a heavy sentence, postponing any application of the sentence until the beginning of 2023 at the earliest.

But given the fragile state of his health, it's thought unlikely that Schütz will go to prison. Trial proceedings were postponed several times due to his health.

No regrets during trial

The former Waffen SS non-commissioned officer never expressed the slightest regret during the 30 or so hearings. On Monday he again denied any involvement, asking himself "why he was there", and asserting that "everything about him is wrong".

Schütz gave several accounts of his past, some of them contradictory. "Everything is torn apart" in my head, he even said at the opening of the hearing before being interrupted by his lawyer.

Recently, he claimed to have left Lithuania at the beginning of the Second World War to go to Germany, where he claimed to have worked as a farm labourer throughout the conflict. He swore in court that he never wore a German uniform, but overalls.

However, several historical documents mention his name, date and place of birth, proving that he had been assigned from the end of 1942 to the beginning of 1945 to the "Totenkopf" ("skull") division of the Waffen-SS.

Aged 21 at the start of the alleged offences, Schütz was suspected of having shot Soviet prisoners, of "aiding and abetting systematic murders" in which Zyklon B gas was used, and of "holding prisoners in hostile conditions".

During closing arguments in May, the chief prosecutor said that evidence was "fully confirmed", accusing him of not only having lived with the conditions in the camp but of having made a career of it.

There is "no doubt that Mr Schütz worked in Sachsenhausen", Cyrill Klement insisted, before demanding a jail sentence greater than the three-year minimum for complicity in the murders.

Nazi inquiries stepped up

Between its opening in 1936 and its liberation by the Soviets on 22 April 1945, the Sachsenhausen camp took some 200,000 prisoners, mainly political opponents, Jews and homosexuals.

Tens of thousands of them died, mainly from exhaustion due to forced labour and cruel conditions of detention.

After a long period of reluctance to try all the perpetrators of Nazi crimes, Germany has been expanding its investigations over the past decade. Camp guards and other executors of the Nazi machinery can be prosecuted on the charge of complicity in murder.

In recent years, four former SS men have been convicted of the charge.