German court stops trial of former death-camp guard

German court stops trial of former death-camp guard
By Reuters
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By Elke Ahlswede

MUENSTER, Germany (Reuters) - The trial in Germany of a 95-year-old former guard at a Nazi death camp has been stopped because of the defendant's health problems, likely ending one of the last such prosecutions linked to the Holocaust.

The defendant, a German who cannot be named for legal reasons, is no longer considered to be fit to stand trial, partly due to heart problems, according to a medical report, a court in the western city of Muenster said on Monday.

The trial had been temporarily suspended since mid-December because of the defendant's ill health. The court intends to halt the trial for good following the new medical examination.

The court has given prosecutors, joint plaintiffs and the defence a chance to make a statement on the medical exam and is expected to make a final decision on the case around mid-March.

The defendant first appeared in court in Muenster in November accused of assisting in the murder of hundreds of people at a Nazi concentration camp during World War Two. A former guard in the SS paramilitary wing of Hitler's Nazis, he denied the charges.

The man was accused of knowing about killings between 1942 and 1944, when he served in the Stutthof camp, near what is now the Polish city of Gdansk. About 65,000 people, including many Jews, were murdered or died there, according to the Stutthof museum's website.

During the trial, the wheelchair-bound man told the court that he never was a Nazi and that he was not indifferent to the sufferings of inmates.

"I want to say clearly that I am not a Nazi, never was and in the little time that I still have to live, will never be," the defendant declared in a statement read out by one of his attorneys early during the trial.

He said he was ashamed while being in Stutthof and that he himself lived there in fear. He acknowledged that he never expressed criticism.

The defendant was tried in a youth court as he was under 21 at the time of the alleged crimes. He would have faced a sentence of 10 years prison had he been convicted.

Chief Prosecutor Andreas Brendel, one of Germany's most active Nazi hunters, faced the defendant in court as he said the man was accused of taking part in several hundred murders. "People were killed with a shot in the back of the head. People were left to starve, to freeze.

From the opening of the trial on Nov. 6, court sessions were limited to a maximum of two hours a day because of the defendant's physical frailty.

After several sessions he did not appear any more in court for medical reasons.

Some 21 Nazi leaders, including Hermann Goering and Rudolf Hess, were put in the dock at an international military tribunal in 1945-1946, known as the Nuremburg trials, but for decades the West German justice system did little to bring further prosecutions.

The 2011 conviction of Sobibor death camp guard John Demjanjuk, however, gave impetus to prosecutions against junior ranking individuals in the Nazi death machine. That was the first time working in a camp alone was sufficient grounds for culpability, with no proof of a specific crime.

(Reporting by Elke Ahlswede and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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