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CRIME

‘I am innocent’: former Nazi guard, 100, tells German court

A 100-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person charged with complicity in the murder of thousands of detainees, told a German court on Friday that he was not guilty.

The accused Josef S sits in court on Thursday
The accused Josef S sits in court on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

“I am innocent,” said Josef S, who stands accused of “knowingly and willingly” assisting in the murder of 3,518 prisoners at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.

When asked about his work at the camp, he insisted that he “knows nothing” about what happened there and that he did “absolutely nothing”.

“Everything is torn” from his head, he said, complaining that he was the only one in the dock.

Allegations against S include aiding and abetting the “execution by firing squad of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942″ and the murder of prisoners “using the poisonous gas Zyklon B”.

The Sachsenhausen camp detained more than 200,000 people between 1936 and 1945, including Jews, Roma, regime opponents and gay people.

Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labour, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Nazi hunters in final straight of race against time

 ‘No man like you’

The accused’s defence had said at the opening of the case on Thursday that he would not speak about his time at the camp, but would only provide details about his personal life.

Arriving alone at the hearing with his walking aid, the accused recounted in detail his past, including his work at his family’s farm in Lithuania with his seven siblings before his enrolment in the army in 1938.

After the war, he was transferred to a detainees camp in Russia before he was sent to Brandenburg state in Germany where he worked as a farmer and later as a locksmith.

Speaking with a clear voice, he spoke about his past birthdays with his daughters and grandchildren, or about his late wife.

“My wife always said that ‘there’s no other man in the world like you’,” said the widower since 1986.

He remains free during the trial. Even if convicted, he is highly unlikely to be put behind bars given his age.

More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.

The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way to several of these twilight justice cases.

Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.

Among those brought to late justice were Oskar Gröning, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz.

Both were convicted at the age of 94 of complicity in mass murder, but died before they could be imprisoned.

Most recently, former SS guard Bruno Dey was found guilty at the age of 93 last year and was given a two-year suspended sentence.

Separately in the northern German town of Itzehoe, a 96-year-old former secretary in a Nazi death camp is on trial for complicity in murder.

She dramatically fled before the start of her trial, but was caught several hours later. Her trial resumes on October 19th.

READ ALSO: Former Nazi camp secretary caught after escape bid

By David COURBET

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GERMANY AND ISRAEL

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.

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