BERLIN (AP) – A German court on Thursday sentenced a 93-year-old former SS soldier as an accessory to killing in the Stutthof concentration camp, where he served as a guard in the final months of World War II. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
Bruno Dey was convicted of 5,232 accessory charges for murder by the Hamburg state court, the dpa news agency reported. That is equal to the number of people believed to have been killed at Stutthof during his service there in 1944 and 1945. He was also convicted of an accessory charge for attempted murder.
“How do you get used to the horrors?” presiding judge Anne Meier-Goering asked when she announced the verdict.
Because he was only 17 years old, and then 18 years old, when the crime was charged, Dey’s case was tried in juvenile court. The prosecutor has demanded a sentence of three years, while the defense requested his release.
The trial opened in October. Because of Dey’s age, court sessions are limited to two sessions, two hours a week. Additional precautions are also taken to keep this case past the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a closing statement earlier this week, the retired German in wheelchair apologized for his role in the Nazi shredder, saying “it must not be repeated.”
“Today, I want to apologize to everyone who went through this crazy madness,” Dey told the court.
For at least two decades, each trial of the former Nazis has been dubbed “the last possible German.” But only last week, a former guard at Stutthof was charged at the age of 95. The special prosecutor’s office investigating Nazi-era crimes has more than a dozen ongoing investigations.
That was partly due to the precedent set up in 2011 with the verdict of former Ohio worker John Demjanjuk as an accessory to murder on charges that he served as a guard in the Sobibor death camp in German-occupied Poland. Demjanjuk, who flatly denied the allegations, died before his appeal could be heard.
German courts previously demanded prosecutors to justify the charges by presenting evidence of the participation of former guards in certain killings, often almost impossible given the circumstances of the crimes committed in the Nazi death camp.
However, the prosecutor successfully debated during the Demjanjuk trial in Munich that guarding a camp whose sole purpose was murder was sufficient for accessory conviction.
The federal court later upheld the 2015 sentence against former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening, who upheld the precedent.
The Dey case extends the argument to apply to guards in concentration camps that do not exist only for extermination purposes.
Prosecutors argued that as Stutthof’s guard from August 1944 to April 1945, Dey – although “there were no Nazi ideology worshipers” – helped all the killings that occurred there during that period as “little wheels in the killing machine.”
Efraim Zuroff, Nazi head hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center office in Jerusalem, criticized the suspended sentence as “polluting the process” in an effort to bring justice to the survivors of the Holocaust, saying Dey waited until he faced jail time before apologizing for his actions.
“We are very pleased that he was convicted but annoyed by the sentence, which in some sense is an insult to the survivors,” Zuroff said in a telephone interview. “There must be an element of punishment.”
Dey gave a broad statement to investigators about his service, saying that he was deemed unfit to fight in the German regular forces in 1944 so he was recruited as an SS guards detachment and sent to a camp near Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland.
Originally a gathering point for Jews and non-Jews who were transferred from Danzig, Stutthof from around 1940 was used as the so-called “labor education camps” where forced workers, especially Polish and Soviet citizens, were sent to serve their sentences and often die.
Others imprisoned there include political prisoners, suspected criminals, people suspected of carrying out homosexual activities and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
From mid-1944, when Dey was stationed there, tens of thousands of Jews from the ghetto in the Baltic and from Auschwitz filled a joint camp with thousands of Polish civilians swept away in the brutal Nazi suppression of the Warsaw uprising.
More than 60,000 people were killed there by being given injections of gasoline or phenols that were deadly directly into their hearts, shot or starved. Others are forced out in winter without clothes until they die due to exposure, or sentenced to death in a gas chamber.
Dey told the court that as a trained baker apprentice, he tried to be sent to the army kitchen or bakery when he found out he was assigned to Stutthof.
As a guard there, he said that he was often directed to supervise prisoners who worked outside the camp.
Dey admitted hearing the shouts from the camp gas chambers and witnessed the bodies taken to be burned, but he said he had never fired his weapon and once allowed a group of people to smuggle meat from a dead horse they found back into the camp.
“Images of misery and horror have haunted me all my life,” he testified.
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.