NEUBRANDENBURG, Germany (AFP) — A German court Monday suspended the trial of former SS medic Hubert Zafke for aiding in 3,681 murders in Auschwitz after the 95-year-old failed to attend over health problems.
Chief judge Klaus Kabisch put the proceedings on hold shortly after they opened, saying a doctor who examined the defendant on Sunday found that he had “suicidal thoughts and was suffering from stress reaction and hypertension.”
He was therefore “not in a state” to be transported to the court or to be heard, the judge said.
Zafke was working at the Nazi death camp from August 15 to September 14, 1944, a period when teenage diarist Anne Frank was imprisoned there.
Prosecutors charge that by serving at Auschwitz, the former medical orderly “knew of and willingly supported the industrially organized mass killing people in an insidious and cruel manner.”
Zafke’s ability to stand trial had long been a key contention.
A first court had ruled against a trial, finding that he was suffering from dementia, before an appeals court overturned the decision.
It found that, despite his “cognitive impairments” and diminished physical capacity, the defendant could be granted regular breaks and close medical supervision.
Before Monday’s hearing, the prosecution had also sought, but failed, to have the panel of judges recused on the grounds that they were biased toward declaring Zafke unfit to stand trial.
Following Kabisch’s decision, prosecutors filed a motion for a second medical opinion on the condition of Zafke.
The court has only set an initial two further hearing dates, March 14 and 30.
He risks between three and 15 years in prison, but even if convicted, Zafke is unlikely to serve any time behind bars given his advanced age.