German court won’t try 97-year-old Nazi death camp suspect
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German court won’t try 97-year-old Nazi death camp suspect

Former Majdanek guard, accused of supporting operation where 17,000 Jews were shot in ditches, deemed too sick to face court proceedings

A gas chamber in the former Nazi death camp Majdanek, in Poland, October 2017 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)
A gas chamber in the former Nazi death camp Majdanek, in Poland, October 2017 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

BERLIN (AP) — A German court said Thursday it won’t put on trial a former guard at the Nazis’ Majdanek death camp who was charged with being an accessory to murder, arguing that the 97-year-old is too sick to face court proceedings.

The Frankfurt state court cited a comprehensive medical assessment of the suspect that was delayed repeatedly by spells in a hospital. It said an expert determined that the man, who was charged in August 2017, wouldn’t be able to follow proceedings “in an appropriate way” and a trial would pose a “significant danger” to his life.

The suspect, whose name hasn’t been released, was charged for allegedly serving at the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland between August 1943 and January 1944. Prosecutors alleged that the man worked as a guard there as a member of the SS’s Death’s Head division.

In particular, he was accused of supporting Operation Erntefest, or Operation Harvest Festival, on November 3, 1943.

In this photo from November 6, 2018, a justice officer pushes Johann Rehbogen (R), a former Nazi SS guard, in a wheelchair to the courtroom for his trial at the regional court in Muenster, Germany. (Guido Kirchner/dpa/AFP)

On that day, at least 17,000 Jewish prisoners from Majdanek and others who were being used as forced laborers in and around the city of Lublin were shot in ditches just outside the camp. Music blared from the Majdanek loudspeakers to mask the sound of the killings.

Prosecutors can appeal against the Frankfurt court’s ruling.

More than 70 years after the end of World War II, German prosecutors continue to bring new cases against former Nazi war crimes suspects. They have secured some notable convictions in recent years, but because of the suspects’ advanced ages, the task of getting them to trial and seeing the proceedings through is getting increasingly difficult.

Last week, during the trial in Muenster of Johann Rehbogen, the former SS guard at the Stutthof concentration camp collapsed after the 94-year-old defendant was hospitalized for heart and kidney issues — causing several court hearings to be canceled.

He will be examined in January to determine whether his condition has improved enough that the trial can be restarted from the beginning.

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