Trial of Former Nazi Guard Unlikely to Restart

(CN) – Due to his declining health, the trial of a 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard is unlikely to be finished, a German state court said.

SS officers tour the Trawniki camp in Nazi-occupied Poland on July 19, 1942. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

On Monday, a regional German court in Muenster said the trial against Johann Rehbogen was unlikely to resume after doctors found him unfit, according to media reports.

His trial is considered to be among the last possible proceedings against former Nazis accused of crimes during World War II due to the passage of time. Most potential defendants are very old now.

Since the early 2000s, German law has allowed prosecutors to charge people who took part in the Nazi killing machine, but who did not kill anyone themselves. This has opened the way for prosecutors to charge ex-SS camp guards and other Nazi officials for complicity.

In recent years, an accountant and a former SS guard at Auschwitz were convicted at the age of 94. Both men died before they could be imprisoned, according to Deutsche Welle, a German news agency.

Rehbogen went on trial in November, but due to his poor health, proceedings were interrupted in December. He appeared before the court in a wheelchair and reportedly suffers from heart and kidney problems.

His trial is taking place in juvenile court because he was not yet 21 years of age when he was an SS guard at the Stutthof concentration camp near what is now Gdansk, Poland. At the time, Gdansk was called Danzig.

He is accused of complicity in mass murder at the camp, including the gassing of more than 100 Polish prisoners in June 1944 and “probably several hundred” Jews killed from August to December 1944, according to the Associated Press.

At trial, Rehbogen said he was ashamed of being a SS member and broke down in tears. But he denied taking part in crimes against camp prisoners and he said he was unaware of mass killings, according to DPA, a German news agency. About 65,000 people reportedly died in the Nazi camp between 1939 and 1945.

The state court has not made its decision final and prosecutors may appeal. Rehbogen faces a 15-year prison sentence.

The Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in Germany said doctors evaluated his condition on several occasions and found him unfit for trial. The newspaper said doctors warned that going back and forth to the trial and participating in it was hazardous to his health.

The German newspaper said prisoners at the Stutthof camp were killed by gassing, drowning, dog attacks and the injection of gasoline and phenol into their hearts.

More trials against former Nazis may occur.

In November, German prosecutors charged a 95-year-old former Nazi death camp guard with being an accessory to the murder of more than 36,000 people at the Mauthausen concentration camp in northern Austria, according to Deutsche Welle.

An agency set up to investigate Nazi crimes is looking at 19 more cases at the moment, according to Thomas Will, the supervising public prosecutor at an agency set up to investigate Nazi crimes. The agency is called the Central Office of the Land Judicial Authorities for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes.

In an email to Courthouse News Service, Will said his office has investigated between 20 and 30 cases a year against former Nazis and handed off many of those cases to prosecutors. He said prosecutors decide whether to press charges.

Bringing elderly defendants to trial has had its critics, but legal experts say they have symbolic meaning to show that the German court system can bring former Nazis to justice. For decades, Germany struggled to do just that.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based organization that investigates the Holocaust, estimates that Germany has indicted about 100,000 people for crimes against civilians during World War II and about 7,000 people were convicted.

The Wiesenthal Center is seeking to get as many former Nazis to face trial as possible before they die.

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

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