A German court has convicted a 93-year-old former SS private of being an accessory to murder at the Stutthof concentration camp, where he served as a guard in the final months of World War II. He was given a two-year suspended sentence.
Bruno Dey was convicted of 5,232 counts of accessory to murder by the Hamburg state court. That is equal to the number of people believed to have been killed at Stutthof during his service there in 1944 and 1945. He also was convicted of one count of accessory to attempted murder.
“How could you get used to the horror?” presiding judge Anne Meier-Goering asked as she announced the verdict.
Because he was only 17, and later 18, at the time of his alleged crimes, Dey’s case was heard in juvenile court. Prosecutors had called for a three-year sentence, while the defence sought acquittal.
The trial opened in October. Because of Dey’s age, court sessions were limited to two, two-hour sessions a week. Additional precautions also were taken to keep the case going through the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a closing statement earlier this week, the wheelchair-bound German retiree apologised for his role in the Nazis’ machinery of destruction, saying “it must never be repeated.”
“Today, I want to apologise to all of the people who went through this hellish insanity,” Dey told the court.p
For at least two decades, every trial of a former Nazi has been dubbed “likely Germany’s last.” But just last week, another ex-guard at Stutthof was charged at age 95. A special prosecutors’ office that investigates Nazi-era crimes has more than a dozen ongoing investigations.
That’s due in part to a precedent established in 2011 with the conviction of former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk as an accessory to murder on allegations that he served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in German-occupied Poland. Demjanjuk, who steadfastly denied the allegations, died before his appeal could be heard.
German courts had previously required prosecutors to justify charges by presenting evidence of a former guard’s participation in a specific killing, often next to impossible given the circumstances of the crimes committed at Nazi death camps.
However, prosecutors successfully argued during Demjanjuk’s trial in Munich that guarding a camp whose only purpose was murder was enough for an accessory conviction.
A federal court subsequently upheld the 2015 conviction of former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening, solidifying the precedent.