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German prosecutors charge alleged Auschwitz death camp guard

German prosecutors have brought a criminal charge against an alleged former guard at the Auschwitz death camp. This is part of a renewed drive to convict low-level Nazis collaborators.

The prosecutor's office in the southern city of Stuttgart announced on Thursday that they had charged a 93-year-old Lithuanian-born man with being an accessory to murder. Prosecutors did not name the suspect, but German media have identified him as Hans Lipschis, who lived for more than two decades following the war in the United States, but was deported to Germany in 1982 after his Nazi past came to light.

Prosecutors said the charge against him related to his work at Auschwitz between 1941 and 1943. It said that by carrying out his duties, he was alleged "to have supported the operation of the camp and thereby the extermination activities."

The official also said 12 prisoner transports had arrived at the camp during the suspect's time there. More than 10,000 prisoners were determined unfit for work and sent to the gas chambers shortly after their arrival.

The head of the office that conducts initial investigations into alleged Nazi war crimes, Kurt Schrimm, told the Reuters news agency that the suspect was on a list of 30 alleged former Auschwitz guards it wants brought to justice. However, the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, which is based in Ludwigsburg, doesn't have the power to actually charge suspects. It can only hand over evidence it uncovers to regional justice authorities such as the one in Stuttgart. They in turn, have to open their own investigations to determine whether there is enough evidence to bring charges.

"The investigation was short but intensive. We looked for documents that showed that (the accused) was on duty on particular days when the transports came in," said Stuttgart prosecutor Claudia Krauth. "If we have proof that someone has committed a crime, we are required to prosecute that person."

Lipschis, who had been arrested back in May, has not responded to the charges, but in the past has told German newspapers that he was only a cook at Auschwitz.

The officials decided to go after Lipschis and other subjects, who are all thought to be at least 90 years old, after the conviction of John Demjanjuk.

In 2011, a Munich court sentenced Demjanjuk, a former guard at the Sobibor concentration camp, to five years in jail after finding him guilty of 20,000 counts of being an accessory to murder. Demjanjuk, who was born in Ukraine and spent much of his adult life in the United States, had faced a series of trials prior to the Munich trial. He died in March 2012 at the age of 91.

The case established that death camp guards could be convicted as accessories to murder if there was no evidence that they personally committed atrocities.

The concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in occupied Poland, which was in operation from 1940 until 1945, was the Nazis' biggest.

An estimated 900,000 people - mostly Jews - were killed in the camp's gas chambers, while 200,000 others died through other means, including executions carried out by members of the SS, hunger, or sickness.

pfd/dr (dpa, Reuters, AFP)