A 94-year-old former enlisted SS man went on trial in Germany, charged with being an accessory to murder for crimes committed during the years he served as a guard at the Nazis’ Stutthof concentration camp.
Johann Rehbogen is accused of working as a guard at the camp east of Danzig, which is today the Polish city of Gdansk, from June 1942 to about the beginning of September 1944.
There is no evidence linking him to a specific crime, but more than 60,000 people were killed at Stutthof and prosecutors argue that as a guard, he was an accessory to at least hundreds of those deaths.
Stutthof prisoners were killed in a gas chamber, with deadly injections of gasoline or phenol directly to their hearts or shot, starved and even forced outside in winter without clothes until they died of exposure, prosecutor Andreas Brendel said.
The former SS officer does not deny serving in the camp during the war but has told investigators he was not aware of the killings and did not participate in them, Brendel said..
Rehbogen lives in the western municipality of Borken near the Dutch border.
In deference to his age and health, the trial is being restricted to a maximum of two hours a day, with no more than two non-consecutive days a week. At the same time, because he was under 21 at the time of his alleged crimes, he is being tried in juvenile court.
Stutthof was established in 1939 and underwent several iterations, initially being used as the main collection point for Jews and non-Jewish Poles removed from the nearby city of Danzig on the Baltic Sea coast.
From about 1940 onward, it was used as a so-called “work education camp” where forced laborers, primarily Polish and Soviet citizens who had run afoul of their Nazi oppressors, were sent to serve sentences and often died. Others incarcerated there included criminals, political prisoners, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
From mid-1944, it was filled with tens of thousands of Jews from ghettos being cleared by the Nazis in the Baltics as well as from Auschwitz, which was overflowing, and thousands of Polish civilians swept up in the brutal suppression of the Warsaw uprising.