A 92-year-old former SS guard accused of complicity in the murders of 260,000 people at the Auschwitz death camp will undergo medical evaluation to determine if she is fit to stand trial for her participation in Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jews.
German prosecutors have alleged that Helma M., who served as a radio operator for camp commander Rudolph Hess in 1944, received details of incoming shipments of Jews to be murdered at the Nazi camp.
An estimated 1.2 million European Jews and other victims of Nazi Germany were murdered at the camp in occupied Poland. Among the 6,500 former SS personnel at Auschwitz who survived the war, fewer than 50 have been convicted to date.
Medical experts are expected to present an evaluation of Helma M. to the Kiel District Court in Northern Germany next month, a Saturday report in the UK’s Daily Mail said.
Described as “deaf and frail,” her defense has maintained the nursing home resident is unfit to stand trial for her complicity in Nazi war crimes.
According to a 2015 indictment, the former radio operator “was a helper in the systematic murder of the Jews transported there.”
Despite camp duty rosters that reportedly confirm she was in Hess’s service from April to July 1944, Helma M. escaped prosecution at the end of the war because no evidence that she personally harmed any Auschwitz inmates during her time at the camp was ever presented to German courts.
In recent years however, Germany’s laws regarding the prosecution of former Nazis has shifted, and now defines suspects’ involvement in death camps as sufficient grounds for culpability in Nazi war crimes, even without proof of committing a specific crime.
As a result, a wave of new investigations into former Nazi guards, medics and other camp workers has led to a handful of trials against a dwindling number of aging suspects.
In 2015, Jens Rommel, Germany’s top Nazi hunter, charged Helma M. with complicity in the murders of 260,000 people in the Auschwitz death camp.
In her role as a radio operator, Rommel claimed she received and transmitted details of the number of people to be exterminated — most of them Hungarian Jews — between April and July 1944.
“Helma M. was involved in the so-called ‘Hungarian Action’ which saw the destruction of at least half the Jewish population of Hungary,” Rommel said on Saturday according to a report in the Mail.
“Three to four trains arrived daily. Of 360,000 people, at least a quarter of a million of them were murdered immediately, most of them women and children unfit for work,” he said.
Rommel — who bears no relation to Hitler’s Field Marshal Erwin Rommel — said the murders of the Jews were coordinated in the command area where she worked, and she would have undoubtedly known of their fate.
Helma M., Rommel said, “would have known what was happening in Auschwitz, would have heard the sound of the shootings and [smelt] the smell of burning bodies.”
“We have learned from other interrogations that people in the command center talked of the daily events, and as such we say she was a part of the murder machine which made Auschwitz function,” he added.
In a separate trial against a former Auschwitz guard, German defense attorneys on Saturday called for the acquittal of Reinhold Hanning, claiming the trial failed to produce evidence the defendant was directly involved in specific crimes against Nazi victims.
According to the German news agency dpa, defense attorney Johannes Salmen told the Detmold state court in his closing remarks that Hanning never killed or beat anyone, or helped others do so, and that he was never in the part of the camp where the gas chambers were located.
Prosecutors are seeking a six-year-prison sentence. They argue that Hanning is guilty of being an accessory to murder in at least 100,000 cases because, as a guard, he helped the death camp function.
In April, Hanning admitted to serving as an Auschwitz guard. He said he was ashamed that, although he was aware Jews were being gassed and their corpses burned, he did nothing to try to stop it.
Hanning did not take the opportunity to make a closing statement himself. A verdict is expected on Friday.
The trials of Hanning and Helma M. come on the heels of a high-profile case last year against Oskar Groening, dubbed the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz.”
Groening was sentenced in July to four years in prison, even though he had previously been cleared by German authorities after lengthy criminal probes dating back to the 1970s.
Another case is currently being heard by a German court against former SS medic Hubert Zafke, 95, who is charged with at least 3,681 counts of complicity in killings.
That case has however been suspended twice due to the defendant’s poor health, raising questions on whether it can proceed.
Agencies contributed to this report.