German court deems ex-Nazi camp guard, 96, unfit to stand trial

A German court has halted proceedings against a 96-year-old former Nazi camp guard deemed unfit to stand trial, but ruled that he must pay his own legal fees.

The man named as Harry S is accused of aiding and abetting murder in several hundred cases while working as a guard at the Stutthof camp near what was Danzig, now Gdańsk, between June 1944 and May 1945.

He was charged in 2017 along with another former Stutthof guard whose trial was discontinued in March 2019, also for health reasons.

“Due to his physical condition, he was no longer able to reasonably represent his interests in and outside of the trial,” the district court in Wuppertal said in a statement.

However, the court found there was “a high degree of probability” Harry S was guilty of the crimes and therefore ruled that he should incur his own expenses.

Harry S was accused of overseeing the transport of 598 prisoners from Stutthof to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp on 10 September 1944, all but two of whom were later murdered in gas chambers.

It could also be assumed that he had overseen other transports and kept watch regularly during his 10 months at the camp and had therefore “recognised the scope and dimension of the mass murder committed” there, the court said.

This included the mass killing of prisoners in the camp’s gas chamber, as well as shootings and lethal injections directly into prisoners’ hearts, it said.

Germany has been hunting down former Nazi staff since a legal precedent was set by the 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk on the basis he had served as part of the Nazi killing machine.

Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.

Among those who were brought to late justice were Oskar Gröning, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, an SS guard at the same camp.

Both were convicted of complicity in mass murder at the age of 94 but died before they could be imprisoned.

In February, German prosecutors charged a 95-year-old who had been secretary at the Stutthof camp with complicity in the murders of 10,000 people, in the first such case in recent years against a woman.

Days later, a 100-year-old former guard at the Sachsenhausen camp, north of Berlin, was charged with complicity in 3,518 murders.