A former Nazi concentration camp guard has gone on trial on 5,230 counts of being an accessory to murder.
Bruno Dey, 93, was a guard at the Stutthof camp east of Danzig - Gdansk – in Poland from August 1944 to April 1945.
There is no evidence he directly participated in any killings, but prosecutors argue he effectively helped them to take place in his role as a guard.
“The accused was no ardent worshipper of Nazi ideology,” an indictment said. “But there is also no doubt that he never actively challenged the persecutions of the Nazi regime.”
Wheelchair-bound Mr Dey has not denied being a camp guard. He has given investigators detailed statements about his service, and how after being ruled unfit for combat at age 17, he was drafted into an SS detachment and sent to Stutthof, which was near his home town.
In recent years, prosecutors have successfully convicted former death camp guards using the argument that by helping to operate camps like Auschwitz and Sobibor, they were accessories to the murders there.
The 2015 conviction of former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening on such reasoning was upheld by a German federal court, solidifying the precedent. In Mr Dey’s case, the reasoning is being applied to a concentration camp rather than a death camp.
Prosecutors are confident it still applies because tens of thousands of people were killed in Stutthof even though – unlike at other installations – the site’s sole purpose was not murder.
Stefan Waterkamp, Mr Dey’s lawyer, asked the court: ”Where does responsibility end? That is the question this trial must answer.”
Stutthof was established by Germany in 1939 east of Danzig and was first used as the main collection point for Jews and non-Jewish Poles removed from the city.
From about 1940, it was used as a so-called “work education camp” where forced labourers, primarily Polish and Soviet citizens, were sent to serve their sentences and often died. Others incarcerated there included criminals, political prisoners, gay people and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
From mid-1944, when Mr Dey was posted there, it was filled with tens of thousands of Jews from ghettos being cleared by the Nazis in the Baltics as well as from Auschwitz, and thousands of Polish civilians swept up in the brutal suppression of the Warsaw uprising.
In the end, more than 60,000 people were killed there by shooting, starvation or lethal injections of petrol or phenol directly into their hearts. Others were forced outside in winter without clothes until they died of exposure, or were sent to gas chambers.
Some three dozen survivors and their relatives have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law, including New York filmmaker Ben Cohen, whose grandmother survived Stutthof but whose great-grandmother died in the camp’s gas chamber during the time Dey served as a camp guard.
Additional reporting by AP
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