A 100-year-old former Nazi camp guard has been brought to trial Thursday for his alleged involvement as an accessory to more than 3,000 murders.
Many Holocaust survivors showed up at the Courthouse for the occasion.
Prosecutors charged Josef S., a former member of the Nazi party's paramilitary SS, with assisting to the deaths of 3,518 people in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by regularly standing guard at the watchtower between 1942 and 1945. The accusation mentions contributing to cruel and insidious killings by helping create and maintain life-threatening conditions in the camp.
Doctors have said the man, whose full name was not released due to German trial reporting rules, is only partially fit to stand trial, due to which sessions will be limited to just two and a half hours each day. When the trial began, his lawyer held up a blue folder to hide his client's face. He was 21 when he first became a guard at Sachsenhausen in 1942.
Some people interned in Sachsenhausen were killed with Zyklon-B, the poison gas also used in other death camps where millions of Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Sachsenhausen predominantly housed political prisoners from all over Europe, along with Soviet POWs and some Jews.
Other cases against former concentration camp guards have been brought to the courts in recent years. Last week, a 96-year-old former camp secretary fled the day she was to begin her trial, but she was caught by police a few hours later.
A 2011 court ruling paved the way for these final prosecutions, stating that even those who indirectly contributed to the wartime killings, without pulling the trigger or issuing an order, could take criminal responsibility.
Sachsenhausen opened in 1936 as one of the first Nazi concentration camps, acted as a training ground for SS guards who later went on to serve elsewhere, including Auschwitz and Treblinka. Other deaths at Sachsenhausen included Dutch resistance fighters and internal political opponents of the Nazis.
Josef S' trial is taking place at the Landgericht Neuruppin court in Brandenburg, Germany amid strict security. He is the oldest defendant so far to stand trial for crimes committed during World War II.
It was only in recent years that lower-ranking Nazis were brought to trial. Ten years ago, the conviction of former SS guard John Demjanjuk set a precedent enabling prosecutors to charge people for aiding and abetting Nazi crimes. Until then, direct participation in the murder had to be proven.
Josef S arrived at the court in a wheelchair, clutching a briefcase, and entered with the aid of a walking frame, his face covered by his attorney. He has lived in the Brandenburg area for years, reportedly as a locksmith, and has not spoken publicly about the trial.
His lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, told the court that the defendant would not comment on the trial on the allegations against him. He would, however, speak about his circumstances at Friday's hearing. The trial is expected to continue until January.
A gas chamber was installed at Sachsenhausen in 1943 and 3,000 people were massacred at the camp as the war drew to a close because they were unfit to march. The prosecutor gave details of mass shootings and murders by gas, as well as through disease and exhaustion.