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Ex-Nazi guard convicted of over 3,500 counts of accessory to murder

Former Nazi concentration camp guard Josef Schuetz, 101, covers his face as he arrives on Wednesday at a gym used as a makeshift courtroom in Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany, where his verdict was announced. (Adam Berry/AFP/Getty Images)
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A German court has found a 101-year-old former concentration camp guard guilty of being an accessory to thousands of murders and sentenced him to five years in prison — the latest in a string of prosecutions of ex-Nazis in the country.

The centenarian — who has maintained his innocence throughout his months-long trial in Neuruppin state court in east Germany — was convicted Tuesday of more than 3,500 counts of accessory to murder.

Prosecutors accused him of being an accessory to the murder of thousands of Jews, political prisoners and other minorities persecuted by the Nazis at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp from 1942 to 1945.

“You willingly supported this mass extermination with your activity,” a judge told the man Tuesday, as his verdict was read in a gymnasium in the town of Brandenburg an der Havel, where he lives.

100-year-old alleged ex-Nazi guard to stand trial on thousands of counts of being an accessory to murder

The man, identified internationally as Josef Schuetz and as Josef S. in Germany because of privacy laws, has repeatedly denied the allegations and claimed he was an agricultural laborer in a different area of the country at the time, according to Deutsche Welle. He was not identified at his sentencing hearing.

“I don’t know why I am here,” Schuetz said on the last day of his trial Monday, according to Agence France-Presse. His attorney, Stefan Waterkamp, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post. Waterkamp previously told AFP that he would appeal a guilty verdict.

According to Deutsche Welle, Schuetz is the oldest person ever tried in Germany for complicity with Nazi crimes during World War II.

As The Post has previously reported, Schuetz’s trial and recent conviction reflect “how law enforcement officials are racing against time to bring some closure for elderly Holocaust survivors and their families, as more and more Nazi personnel and their victims die in old age.”

A 96-year-old former Nazi camp secretary was supposed to stand trial. She tried to flee instead.

Throughout Schuetz’s trial, which began in October and has been paused several times because of his apparent ill health, prosecutors relied on old identification documents to build a case that he was a Nazi guard at Sachsenhausen between 1942 and 1945, during which time they alleged he aided and abetted in the murder of different groups of prisoners by firing squad and poison gas, according to AFP.

Tens of thousands of people died at Sachsenhausen, a forced-labor and death camp where Jews, Soviet prisoners of war and other persecuted minorities were killed by shooting and gas chamber. The camp was liberated by Soviet forces in April 1945.

Schuetz said throughout his trial that he did not know what was taking place in the concentration camp and gave conflicting accounts of his whereabouts during World War II, AFP reported.

“The court has come to the conclusion that, contrary to what you claim, you worked in the concentration camp as a guard for about three years,” presiding judge Udo Lechtermann told Schuetz, according to the German news agency dpa.

A German court set a precedent in 2011 with the conviction of John Demjanjuk, a 91-year-old accused of being an accessory to 28,000 murders while working as a guard at the Sobibor concentration camp run by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland.

The court’s decision paved the way for convictions that largely rested on whether the defendant had served at a Nazi death camp where crimes had taken place. Prosecutors previously had to prove the accused had committed specific crimes against someone — a higher threshold, given the alleged events took place decades ago. Demjanjuk, who died in 2012, denied he had been a guard.

While elderly people convicted of being former Nazis are not typically expected to serve time in prison, some argue that prosecuting and convicting them can restore a measure of justice to descendants of their victims, and ensure their crimes do not go unacknowledged.

In another high-profile case, Irmgard Furchner, who went on the run hours before her trial last year, is still awaiting sentencing.

The 97 year-old worked as a secretary in the Stutthof concentration camp between 1943 and 1945. Age just 18, Furchner became the private secretary to camp commander Paul Werner Hoppe. She stands accused of complicity in murder in 11,380 cases.

According to German magazine Der Spiegel, Furchner married a former SS officer after the war and allegedly kept in contact with Hoppe and one of the former executioners at the concentration camp. Throughout her trial, she protested her innocence, arguing that she had no say over where she was posted during the war.

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Andrew Jeong and Florian Neuhof in Berlin contributed to this report.

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