In recent years as more information has come to light, multiple former Nazis have been tried in Germany for their roles in the Holocaust. Although these individuals are now elderly and regretful, Germany has faced criticism for not charging more individuals who played small roles as concentration camp guards and bookkeepers.
Oskar Gröning was an SS junior squad leader stationed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, who was charged with collecting personal property that prisoners arrived with. In 1944 he was transferred from Auschwitz to a combat unit , and was captured by British forces in June 1945. Gröning was transferred to the UK as a prisoner of war, but was allowed to return to Germany following the war’s conclusion. He lived a quiet life upon his return to Germany and rarely spoke of his experiences during the war, but broke his 40-year silence after witnessing Holocaust denial creep its way into the public eye. Gröning has been interviewed by the BBC; providing first-hand accounts of the horrors of Auschwitz as one of the only Germans willing to make public statements about his time as an SS soldier. These interviews contained self-incriminating information, and contributed significantly to the war crimes case brought against him.
In September 2014, German prosecutors charged Gröning as an accessory to murder in 300,000 cases for his role at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. On July 15, 2015, at the age of 93, Gröning was found guilty of facilitating mass murder and sentenced to four years in prison. In November 2017 a German court determined that Gröning was fit to serve out his sentence in prison; he had been living at home since his conviction. Groening died at age 96 on March 12, 2018, before being incarcerated.
Hubert Zafke was a Nazi SS sergeant at Auschwitz from October 1943 until January 1944, and served as a medic at the concentration camp from August to September 1944. During his time as a medic, Anne Frank and her family arrived at the camp. Zafke’s unit placed Zyklon-B pesticide crystals into the gas chambers, where up to 6,000 Jews were killed per day. Zafke was charged in a German court in January 2016 with being an accessory to the murders of 3,681 individuals at Auschwitz-Birkenau and being “supportive of the running of this extermination camp.”
Zafke admitted he served at Auschwitz, but said he did not see or participate in any of the murders. His attorney said he knew people were being murdered at Auschwitz but never took part in the killings.
Following a two-year trial that only saw four days in court, the proceeding was suspended after prosecutors informed the court that Zafke was too ill to face trial. Prior to his trial, in October 2015, Zafke was diagnosed with dementia. The disease progressed to the point that the 96-year-old could no longer reasonably assess his interests or coherently follow or give testimony and the charges were dropped on September 12, 2017.
Reinhold Hanning served as a SS guard at Auschwitz-Birkenau from 1942 to 1944, greeting prisoners as they were unloaded off freight cars and leading them to the gas chambers. After the war Hanning lived a normal life as a truck driver and a salesman before eventually going into business for himself and retiring in 1984. Following an investigation by German federal prosecutors that began in 2013, Hanning was tried in court for 170,000 counts of being an accessory to murder. Several Holocaust survivors testified against him in court, and he admitted knowing of the atrocities going on but not doing anything to stop it. Hanning was found guilty on all counts in June 2016, and sentenced to five years in prison. Hanning died the next year before serving any prison time, at age 95.
To read about John Demjanjuk, please click here.
In September 2015, an unnamed 91-year old woman was charged with complicity in the murders of at least 260,000 individuals during her time as a telegraph operator in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The woman operated as part of an all-female SS unit.
A 96-year old unnamed individual who was a guard at the Majdanek death camp was charged in a German court with being an accessory to murder in October 2017. The individual served as a guard at Majdanek between August 1943 and January 1944, during which an estimated 17,000 Jews were killed at the camp. Then 22 years of age, the individual on trial allegedly worked as a perimeter guard and in the camp’s guard towers.
Two Unnamed Guards
On November 15, 2017, German prosecutors announced indictments of two former Nazi SS concentration camp guards, now in their 90’s. Both men served as guards at the Stutthof concentration camp; a 93-year-old man from Borken who served in Stutthof from June 1942 to September 1944, and a 92-year-old man from Wuppertal who served there from June 1944 to May 1945. The two men were charged with accessory to murder for hundreds of killings that took place at the camp. They deny any knowledge of the murders.
Nine New Cases in 2017
It was announced on December 18, 2017, that nine new Nazi War Crimes cases had been turned over to the state authorities for possible prosecution. These cases involve guards from the Auschwitz death camp, and the Mauthausen, Buchenwald and Ravensbrück concentration camps. The names of the suspects have not yet been released, but they are all over 90 years of age.
Johann Rehbogen, a 94-year-old former SS enlisted man went on trial in Germany on November 6, 2018. He is accused of serving as a guard at the Stutthof concentration camp from June 1942 to about early September 1944. He is not linked to a specific crime, but more than 60,000 people were killed at Stutthof and prosecutors argue that as a guard, he was an accessory to at least hundreds of those deaths. Rehbogen did not deny serving in the camp, but said he was unaware of the killings and did not participate in them. Prosecutors are using the argument, first successfully applied in the trial of John Demjanjuk, that being a camp guard is sufficient to establish Rehbogen was an accessory to murder. He is being tried as a juvenile because he was under 21 at the time of the alleged crimes.
Hamburg prosecutors have charged a 92-year-old former guard at Stutthof concentration camp, identified only as Bruno D., of aiding and abetting 5,230 cases of murder during the almost nine months he spent on duty at the camp watchtower. According to Die Welt, the man admitted he saw people being taken to gas chambers to be murdered.
“What good would it have done for me to leave? They’d just have found somebody else,” he told prosecutors. He added, “I felt bad for the people there. I didn’t know why they were there. I knew that they were Jews who had committed no crime.”
The accused was 17 when he was assigned to the camp. He claimed he joined the SS because he could only do “garrison service” because of a heart condition.
Sources: Oskar Gröning, Wikipedia;
Reinhold Hanning, Wikipedia;
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German woman aged 91 charged over Nazi death camp allegations, The Guardian, (September 21, 2015);
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Former Auschwitz guard convicted in one of Germany’s last Holocaust trials, Telegraph, (June 17, 2016);
Nazi trial against Auschwitz medic Hubert Z. to be suspended, Die Welt, (September 1, 2017);
96-year-old ex-Nazi guard charged in Germany, CBS News, (October 20, 2017);
96-year-old Former Nazi Death Camp Guard Charged With Accessory to Murder, Haaretz, (October 20, 2017);
Germany drops case against former Auschwitz medic, 96, in what could be last high-profile Nazi trial, JTA, (September 12, 2017).
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9 new Nazi war crimes cases sent to German state prosecutors, ABC News, (December 18, 2017);
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