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Ex-Auschwitz orderly 'fit to stand trial'

December 2, 2015

A German appeals court has ruled that a 95-year-old former SS sergeant serving at the death camp in 1944 is fit for trial. Prosecutors don't accuse him of killings but say he was aware of the camp's murderous purpose.

Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau
Image: DW/D.Bryantseva

An appeals court in Rostock in northern Germany ruled Tuesday that Hubert Z. is fit for trial, overruling a previous decision by a lower court that considered him too fragile for a legal process.

Z., whose last name has not been released due to German privacy laws, was a sergeant in the Nazi SS at Auschwitz from October 1943 to January 1944 and acted as one of the death camp's paramedics from August 15 to September 14, 1944, the indictment said.

During that month, at least 14 trains laden with concentration camp prisoners reached the extermination camp in Poland from places as far as Rhodes, Lyon, Vienna and Westerbork in the Netherlands, the local prosecutor's office in Schwerin said.

While the former Wehrmacht soldier is not accused of having been directly involved in any killings, the prosecution's office holds that he was well aware of the camp's function as a facility for mass murder and is therefore culpable for the deaths of thousands of people.

"Given his awareness, the accused lent support to the organization of the camp and was thereby both involved in and promoted the extermination," said prosecutors in an earlier statement as they charged Z. for complicity in the "cruel and insidious killings of at least 3,681" people.

The man's lawyers had argued that a trial could be inhumanely taxing on the frail senior who the court acknowledged suffers from a "low physical capacity."

But judges said these limitations could be compensated by regular breaks during the hearings as well as medical care.

Prosecutions accelerating against suspected Nazis

Oskar Gröning in court.
Earlier this year, 94-year-old Oskar Gröning, known as the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz," was sentenced to four years in prison after he was convicted as an accessory for the murder of 300,000 people in the concentration campImage: Reuters/A. Heimken

Some 70 years after the trials of top Nazis began in Nuremberg, Germany is racing against time to prosecute the last Third Reich criminals - to make up for decades of neglect.

Two other cases involving death camp employees are also pending trial in German courts.

In the town of Detmold, Reinhold H. is accused of being an accessory to the murder of 170,000 people in Auschwitz and in the city of Kiel, a 91-year-old woman is accused of the same charges in the case of 260,000 people.

In both cases, the defense maintains that the accused are unfit for trial and final court rulings on this are expected later this year and in early 2016.

More than 1.1 million people, most of them European Jews, died between 1940 and 1945 in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp before it was liberated by the Soviet Red Army.

jar/gsw (AFP, Reuters)