On August 1, the German weekly Welt am Sonntag reported that a 100-year-old man will stand trial for his alleged complicity in the killings of more than 3,500 people while working as a camp guard at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp from 1942-1945.
In accordance with German media laws, the accused was not named but was said to have been complicit in executions by firing squad and poisonous gas. The charges against the accused, deemed fit by the court to stand trial this October, reflects a race against time to bring Nazi criminals to justice despite the nearly 80 years since the alleged crimes took place.
“It took a long time, which has not made things any easier, because now we are dealing with such elderly defendants,” Cyrill Klement, a prosecutor in Neuruppin, whose office pressed charges against the 100-year-old man, told the New York Times. “But murder and accessory to murder have no statute of limitation.”
According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, between 2001 and 2018 at least 105 individuals were convicted, deported, denaturalized, or extradited by authorities in North America and Europe for their alleged participation in Nazi war crimes.
The 2011 sentencing of John Demjanjuk, a former Ukrainian POW turned Nazi collaborator, set a new legal precedent allowing for “suspects to be tried as accessories to the Nazi killing machine even if they didn’t commit individual murders,” CBS News reports. Since then, there has been a surge in Germany to prosecute those remaining few — with 25 charges pending against individuals with connections to the Holocaust in the past eight years.
Sachsenhausen, located roughly 20 miles north of Berlin, was originally a camp for political dissidents but later expanded to include Soviet POWs, Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and those dubbed “asocials” — including Roma and Sinti. By 1945 11,100 Jewish prisoners were held at Sachsenhausen.
During the war, nearly 200,000 people were imprisoned there, with 20,000 murdered.
After the war, most of the perpetrators from Sachsenhausen never faced any legal repercussion. The charge against the 100-year-old is one of the first.
“These cases are important contextually, but also symbolically,” Axel Drecoll, director of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation, which includes the Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück concentration camps, told the Times. “It shows that the German justice system takes seriously and continues to pursue these crimes. It is eminently important.”