BERLIN — A 101-year-old former concentration camp guard was convicted by a German court on Tuesday of being accessory to more than 3,500 murders and sentenced to five years in prison, although it was not clear whether he would ever serve time.
The man, who has been widely described in the German media as the oldest person ever to be tried on Nazi-era charges, worked as an SS guard at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, north of Berlin, from 1942 to 1945. He denied working at the camp, and prosecutors were unable to directly link him to the deaths of the prisoners.
A lawyer for the man, identified only as Josef S. because of Germany’s strict privacy laws, said he would appeal the decision if the authorities follow though and attempt to send him to prison. That move would also require a declaration by a medical commission saying that his health was stable enough to face confinement.
“We go by the simple principle that murder does not have a statute of limitations,” said Thomas Will, who leads the German government office tasked with investigating Nazi-era crimes. The office found Mr. S. in 2018 after scouring concentration camp records that the Red Army had brought back to Moscow. “It is what’s right and of course it would have been what was right 70 years ago.”
As the perpetrators of the Holocaust grow increasingly few and old, German prosecutors and investigators are racing to bring remaining cases to court.
Their efforts have been bolstered by a ruling of a Germany’s highest criminal court that found that people who worked as guards in concentration camps could be convicted, even if no specific crimes against them could be proven.
That ruling Tuesday gave prosecutors a much easier path to pursue suspected war criminals, because for decades, merely being a cog in the Nazi machinery was considered insufficient grounds to secure a conviction.
A 97-year old woman is currently on trial in the northern town of Itzehoe for her role as a camp secretary in Stutthof concentration camp, close to what is currently the Polish city of Gdansk.