Former Nazi SS camp guard, 94, goes on trial in Germany

A justice officer pushes the 94-years-old defendant (C), a former SS guard, in a wheelchair to the courtroom for his trial at the regional court in Muenster, western Germany, on November 6, 2018; at (L) is lawyer Andreas Tinkl. (AFP)
Updated 07 November 2018
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Former Nazi SS camp guard, 94, goes on trial in Germany

  • Germany has been racing to put on trial surviving SS personnel, after the legal basis for prosecuting former Nazis changed in 2011 with the landmark conviction of former death camp guard John Demjanjuk

BERLIN: A former SS guard aged 94 broke down in tears Tuesday on the first day of his trial in Germany charged with complicity in mass murder at a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.
The German man from the western district of Borken, North Rhine-Westphalia state, served as a guard from June 1942 to September 1944 at the Stutthof camp near what was then Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland.
He was not publicly named but German media identified him as Johann R., a retired landscape architect and divorced father of three.
Dressed in a wool suit, he entered the regional court of Muenster in a wheelchair, with a walking stick in hand, facing charges of being an accessory to the murders of several hundred camp prisoners.
These included more than 100 Polish prisoners gassed in June 1944 and “probably several hundred” Jews killed from August to December 1944 as part of the Nazis’ so-called “Final Solution.”
Initially composed, the defendant started weeping when the court heard written testimony from Holocaust survivors who now live in the United States or Israel, read out by their lawyers.
Marga Griesbach recalled, according to national news agency DPA, how she saw her six-year-old brother for the last time in the camp before he was sent to Auschwitz where he died in the gas chambers.
Another survivor and co-plaintiff, a woman from the US state of Indianapolis, charged that the defendant “helped to murder my beloved mother, whom I have missed my entire life.”

Aged 18 to 20 at the time, and therefore now being tried under juvenile law, the defendant is “accused in his capacity as a guard of participating in the killing operations,” Dortmund prosecutor Andreas Brendel told AFP.
“Many people were gassed, shot or left to die of hunger,” he added, stressing that the guards “knew about the killing methods.”
But when interrogated by police in August 2017, the accused insisted he knew nothing about the atrocities in the camp, Die Welt daily reported.
Asked why the camp detainees were so thin, he reportedly said that food was so scarce for everyone that, figuratively speaking, two soldiers could fit into one uniform.
Stutthof was set up in 1939 and would end up holding 110,000 detainees, 65,000 of whom perished, according to the Museum Stutthof.
Each court hearing will likely last for a maximum of two hours due to the defendant’s advanced age — even though, prosecutor Brendel said, “mentally, he is still fit.”
The defendant was planning to make a statement during the course of the trial, his lawyer told DPA.
If found guilty, he faces a sentence of up to 15 years in prison — even though, given his age and the possibility of an appeal, he is considered unlikely to serve any time behind bars.
Brendel noted that German law has no statute of limitations on murder and pointed to the moral imperative to pursue the case.
“Germany owes it to the families and victims to prosecute these Nazi crimes even today,” he said.
“That is a legal and moral question.”

Germany has been racing to put on trial surviving SS personnel, after the legal basis for prosecuting former Nazis changed in 2011 with the landmark conviction of former death camp guard John Demjanjuk.
He was sentenced not for any atrocities he committed, but on the basis that he was a cog in the Nazi killing machine by serving at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland.
German courts subsequently convicted Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at the same camp, for mass murder.
However both men, convicted at age 94, died before they could be imprisoned.
Prosecutors have also filed charges against another former SS guard at Stutthof, a 93-year-old from the city of Wuppertal. It remains to be determined if he is fit to stand trial.
Historian Peter Schoettler highlighted “an important humanitarian and legal reason” to push on with the justice process, stressing that “the rule of law should not allow for exceptions.”
Griesbach, in her testimony, said that “I don’t harbor hatred or rage in my heart.”
Rather, she said her main concern was remembrance of the crimes at a time when Holocaust deniers are being heard again, including in her country the United States.


Beijing dismisses ‘hearsay’ on Muslim internment

Updated 13 November 2018
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Beijing dismisses ‘hearsay’ on Muslim internment

  • Critics say China is seeking to assimilate Xinjiang’s minority population and suppress religious and cultural practices that belong in the minority
  • Beijing has repeatedly described the camps as vocational “training centers” that were built to help people drawn to extremism

BEIJING: China defended its internment of Muslims in the country’s northwest as a terror prevention measure on Tuesday, calling on the international community to reject “hearsay” and believe its official line.
Up to a million Uighurs and other Chinese Turkic-speaking minority groups have been placed in political re-education camps in the Xinjiang region, according to a group of experts cited by the United Nations.
After originally denying the existence of the centers, Beijing has repeatedly described the camps as vocational “training centers” that were built to help people drawn to extremism to stay away from terrorism and allow them to be reintegrated into society.
But the program has faced rising criticism outside the country — notably from the United States and human rights groups.
“We hope our journalist friends and our other foreign friends will take into consideration the information and briefings on the situation given by the Chinese authorities,” said China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
“Rumours and hearsay should not be believed,” he said standing next to his German counterpart Heiko Maas at a press conference.
“It’s quite clear that the government in Xinjiang knows best what is happening in Xinjiang — not other people and third party organizations.”
Critics say China is seeking to assimilate Xinjiang’s minority population and suppress religious and cultural practices that conflict with Communist ideology and the dominant Han culture.
Former inmates of the camps say they were detained for having long beards or wearing the veil.
Attacks attributed to Uighurs have left hundreds dead over the last few years in China, many of them in Xinjiang, where Beijing says its concerned about a rise in Islamic radicalism.
The authorities have put in place intrusive measures of security — ubiquitous surveillance cameras, DNA sampling, home visits by officials and GPS trackers in cars.
“We call that a combination of repression and prevention. But we place the priority on prevention. If it’s done well, terrorism won’t expand and take root. It’s the most effective way to combat terrorism,” Wang Yi said.
The German foreign minister did not mention the Xinjiang region at the press conference, but did say he had “spoken on the question of human rights” during his closed meeting with his Chinese counterpart.
A debate on the situation in Xinjiang was held in the German parliament last Thursday.
China’s ambassador to Berlin expressed Beijing’s “profound discontent” and put in an official protest following the “blatant interference” in its “domestic affairs.”