BERLIN — A German court has removed three judges found to be biased in the often-delayed trial of a former SS medic who served at the Auschwitz death camp.
The German news agency dpa reported Saturday that the Neubrandenburg state court appointed three new judges on Friday. Prosecutors filed complaints after the original judges ruled 96-year-old Hubert Zafke unfit and repeatedly postponed the trial.
Zafke is charged with 3,681 counts of accessory to murder for allegedly helping the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland function, but his attorney says he did nothing criminal.
The charges stem from a one-month period in 1944 and involve the deaths of Jews who arrived in 14 train transports.
Prosecutors alleged that Zafke’s unit was involved in putting gas into gas chambers to kill Jews and others.
Prosecutors, and civil plaintiffs, had launched motions of bias against the judges, charging that they were unwilling to try wheelchair-bound Zafke.
The case has been marred by five delays and at times deteriorated into farce, increasingly frustrating victims’ lawyers.
The hearings have delved into Zafke’s life in a rural village: Does he sometimes forget to feed his cats? Did he give his sheep too much to eat?
“While judges and experts review his daily life, the prosecutors stare into space,” said newspaper Die Welt last year.
The International Auschwitz Committee, a group representing camp survivors, has also sharply attacked Germany’s handling of the case, saying the court was hurtling “between sloppy ignorance and complete disinterest” in a resolution.
Victims’ lawyers have grown increasingly frustrated.
“The co-plaintiffs have abandoned all hope that a trial that is anything other than a farce will actually start one day under this presiding judge,” their attorneys, Thomas Walther and Cornelius Nestler, said in a statement in last year.
Both the state and the victims have tried twice before to have the judge, Klaus Kabisch, recuse himself. They argued that Kabisch is biased because he had been unwilling to start the trial in the first place due to Zafke’s poor health, before being overruled by a higher court.
“The justice system has rarely offered a spectacle that is so undignified,” influential news weekly Der Spiegel wrote.