Germany Brings Charges Against Former SS Guard
German prosecutors charged a 95-year-old man with more than 36,000 counts of accessory to murder from his alleged time as a Nazi concentration camp guard during World War II, reported the Local on November 23. Martin Steltner of the Berlin prosecutor’s office announced that the allegations against the individual, identified only as Hans H., concern “atrocities committed at the Mauthausen camp in Austria.”
According to the Local, Hans H. belonged to the SS- Totenkopfsturmbann, which translates to “death’s head battalion,” and was positioned at one of the concentration camps used by Nazi Germany. The prosecutors argue that during that time, the accused “contributed to tens of thousands of prisoner deaths.”
Hans H. served as an SS guard at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in upper Austria and southern Germany from mid-1944 to early 1945.
In a Jewish Chronicle report, the newspaper explains that the accused is alleged to have “known about the various methods of killing [and] the disastrous living conditions” of the prisoners. He was also “aware that a large number of people were killed with these methods and that the victims could have only been killed with such regularity if they were guarded by people such as himself.” BBC further explained that Hans H. supported or “at least made easier the many thousands of deaths carried out by the main perpetrator.” While he may not have personally killed those who passed through the Mauthausen camp, he was complicit in their murders because he knew what was happening and allowed it to continue through his role as a guard.
For many years, it was difficult to bring justice to people like Hans H. who weren’t in command positions but participated in the atrocities of the Holocaust. The Local describes how, in 2011, the “legal basis for prosecuting former Nazis changed” when former guard John Demjanjuk was convicted. According to BBC, his successful trial “opened up the possibility of prosecuting former guards because they had been part of a death-camp operation” and removed the need to charge them with directly taking part in the murders.
With this significant change, Germany began racing to put surviving SS personnel on trial. The Local mentioned other notable trials of participants in the Nazi regime, including Auschwitz accountant Oskar Grönig and former Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning, who were convicted of complicity in mass murder.
Now that the Berlin prosecutor’s office has determined that Hans H. is able to stand trial, a court will review the charges and independently determine whether the accused is fit to be tried. This is likely to be one of the last cases of its kind to go to trial as there are very few former Nazi guards still alive. This gives each case that does go to trial a great deal of significance to Germans wishing to bring justice for Holocaust survivors and continue efforts to atone for the atrocities of the Holocaust and World War II.