A 93-year-old man who worked as a guard at a Nazi concentration camp during his late teens has been handed a two-year suspended sentence for acting as an accessory to murder.
The defendant had been posted to the Stutthof camp, near the city of Gdansk, in 1944, at the age of 17, after he was found to be unfit for the frontline on health grounds. He worked as an SS guard in a watch tower.
The man was found guilty by a court in Hamburg on Thursday of acting as an accessory to murder on 5,232 counts and as an accessory to attempted murder on one count.
The trial took place at a juvenile court due to the man’s young age at the time of the crimes.
“How could you just get used to the horror?” Anne Meier-Goering, the presiding judge in the trial, asked the man as she read out his sentence.
It was more lenient than the three-year prison term sought by the prosecution, while the defence team had called for acquittal.
The sentencing was met with dismay by Efraim Zuroff, a high-profile Nazi hunter.
Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said he welcomed the ruling but lamented “a case of misplaced sympathy syndrome.”
The convicted man, he said on a conference call, will likely “laugh all his way to his home where he will continue his life and the survivors are left with their nightmares… and this I think stains the process that is going on.”
Thirty-five surviving inmates of the Stutthof camp were among the co-plaintiffs also represented in the trial.
Via their lawyers, they had called on the former guard to accept his guilt in the Holocaust but did not push for a severe penalty.
The elderly man confessed at the beginning of his trial last year to working for the SS at the Stutthof camp from August 1944 to April 1945.
He had stressed that he did not work their willingly.
Earlier this week, he addressed the court for the last time, apologizing “to all the people who went through this hellish madness and to their relatives and descendants.”
Among the more than 5,000 prisoners who were murdered at Stutthof while the man worked there, prosecutors said 30 were shot dead in a secret facility within the crematorium, while at least 200 were gassed.
Six of the co-plaintiffs addressed the court, two via video link. They spoke of daily abuse and beatings, as well as murders, deaths by hunger and a typhus outbreak.
According to Germany’s Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, public prosecutors in the country are currently working on another 14 open cases related to crimes in World War II death camps.