Though there was speculation the case would be the last trial of a Nazi guard, another one was charged last week.
HAMBURG, Germany (CN) — A German court on Thursday found a 93-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard guilty of being an accessory to the murder of thousands when he was a teenager.
Despite his advanced age, Bruno Dey was tried in a juvenile court for his role in the murder of 5,232 people at the Stutthof concentration camp during the Second World War beginning when he was 17.
“How could you just get used to the horror?” Presiding Judge Anne Meier-Goering asked the nonagenarian as she read out his two-year suspended sentence, a light punishment given because of his health condition.
On Monday, both Dey and his legal team addressed the Hamburg State Court.
“Today I would like to apologize to those who went through this hell of madness, and their relatives — something like this can never be repeated,” he said. His lawyers had argued that Dey, who is confined to a wheelchair, would not survive any prison sentence.
After being found physically unfit to serve on the front lines, Dey spent a year on guard duty at the camp at the age of 17. Prosecutors estimated that more than 5,000 people died during his time at the camp from a typhus outbreak, caused by the unsanitary conditions and lack of food and medical care. Another 200 people who were gassed, and 30 were executed by a device built specifically for shooting people in the neck.
Dey confessed to being a guard at the camp when he was formally charged in October 2019.
“I probably knew that these were Jews who hadn’t committed a crime, that they were only in here because they were Jews,” he told the court in a pretrial hearing in 2018. “And they have a right to live and work freely like every other human being.”
Witnesses flew in from the United States, Israel and Poland to testify at the trial, which took nine months. Due to Dey’s frailty, hearings were limited to two hours, twice a week.
Prior to 2011, Dey could not have faced murder charges in Germany. Though there is no statute of limitations on murder, German courts had required prospectors to present evidence that an ex-Nazi guard had directly participated in a killing to be charged with murder.
That changed with the conviction of John Demjanjuk, who was found guilty of being an accessory to murder for serving as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in German-occupied Poland. Following that case, German prosecutors began aggressively charging former camp guards.
Opened in 1939 in the Polish town of Sztutowo, Stutthof was the first concentration camp established outside of German. Before it was liberated by Allied forces in 1945, it housed 110,000 prisoners, mostly Jews. An estimated 65,000 people died within its walls.
Though there was speculation that Dey’s case would be the last trial of a Nazi guard, as World War II ended more than 70 years ago, another guard at Stutthof, who is now 95, was charged with murder last week. The German government says there are 14 cases involving camp guards currently under investigation in the country.