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.


Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at “disastrous Brexit“

Updated 20 February 2019
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Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at “disastrous Brexit“

  • Three resign to join independent group in parliament
  • Blow to PM May in efforts to clinch deal on exit from EU

LONDON: Three lawmakers from Britain’s governing Conservatives quit over the government’s “disastrous handling of Brexit” on Wednesday, in a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to unite her party around plans to leave the European Union.
The lawmakers, who support a second EU referendum and have long said May’s Brexit strategy is being led by Conservative euroskeptics, said they would join a new independent group in parliament set up by seven former opposition Labour politicians.
The resignations put May in an even weaker position in parliament, where her Brexit deal was crushed by lawmakers last month when both euroskeptics and EU supporters voted against an agreement they say offers the worst of all worlds.
While the three were almost certain to vote against any deal, the hardening of their positions undermines May’s negotiating position in Brussels, where she heads later to try to secure an opening for further work on revising the agreement.
With only 37 days until Britain leaves the EU, its biggest foreign and trade policy shift in more than 40 years, divisions over Brexit are redrawing the political landscape. The resignations threaten a decades-old two-party system.
“The final straw for us has been this government’s disastrous handling of Brexit,” the three lawmakers, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, said in a letter to May.
Soubry later told a news conference that the Conservative Party had been taken over by right-wing, pro-Brexit lawmakers.
“The truth is, the battle is over and the other side has won. The right-wing, the hard-line anti-EU awkward squad that have destroyed every (Conservative) leader for the last 40 years are now running the ... party from top to toe,” she said.
May said she was saddened by the decision and that Britain’s membership of the EU “has been a source of disagreement both in our party and in our country for a long time.”
“But by ... implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country,” she said, referring to the 2016 referendum in which Britons voted by a margin of 52-48 percent in favor of leaving the EU.
Asked what May would say to others considering resigning, her spokesman said: “She would, as she always has, ask for the support of her colleagues in delivering (Brexit).”

INDEPENDENT GROUP
The three sat in parliament on Wednesday with a new grouping which broke away from the Labour Party earlier this week over increasing frustration with their leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit strategy and a row over anti-Semitism.
Another former Labour lawmaker joined their ranks late on Tuesday, and several politicians from both the main opposition party and Conservatives said they expected more to follow from both sides of parliament.
What unites most of the group of 11 is a desire to see a second referendum on any deal May comes back with, now that the terms of Brexit are known in detail — something the prime minister has ruled out.
For May’s Brexit plan, the resignations are yet another knock to more than two years of talks to leave the EU, which have been punctuated by defeats in parliament, rows over policy and a confidence vote, which she ultimately won.
Britain’s 2016 EU referendum has split not only British towns and villages but also parliament, with both Conservative and Labour leaders struggling to keep their parties united.
May has faced a difficult balancing act. Euroskeptic members of her party want a clean break with the bloc, pro-EU lawmakers argue for the closest possible ties, while many in the middle are increasing frustrated over the lack of movement.
Those who have resigned have long accused May of leaning too far toward Brexit supporters, sticking to red lines which they, and many in Labour, say have made a comprehensive deal all but impossible to negotiate.
But May will head to Brussels hoping that her team will get the green light to start more technical negotiations on how to satisfy the concerns of mostly Brexit supporters over the so-called Northern Irish backstop arrangement.
The “backstop,” an insurance policy to avoid a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland if London and Brussels fail to agree a deal on future ties, is the main point of contention in talks with Brussels.
British officials are hoping they can secure the kind of legal assurances that the backstop cannot trap Britain in the EU’s sphere to persuade lawmakers to back a revised deal.
But May’s argument she can command a majority in parliament if the EU hands her such assurances is getting weaker. A government defeat last week showed the euroskeptics’ muscle.
One pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, Andrew Bridgen, said: “I would find it very difficult to accept a legal document from the same (party) lawyer whose definitive advice four weeks ago was that we could be trapped in the backstop in perpetuity.”