Germany charges 94-year-old former medic at Auschwitz with 3,600 counts of accessory to murder

February 23rd, 2015

Hilde Michnia who has lived undisturbed in the suburbs of Hamburg for nearly five decades who now uses a walking frame is under investigation for allegedly forcing women prisoners on a death march from the Grossen-Rosen concentration camp, during which 1,400 died.

The other man was a former SS guard who helped to choose which prisoners were strong enough for forced labour and which should be immediately gassed. He is being charged with 170,000 counts of accessory to murder.

The cases are part of an initiative, begun in 2013, that recommended 30 people to be prosecuted for their involvement in the Holocaust.

“There is no statue of limitations on murder,” said Andreas Brendel, the prosecutor behind the charges against the unnamed 93-year-old man..

“We still have the victims and the families of victims. For them, it is very important that a German criminal process takes place and the guilt of the offender is determined.”

But critics said the three defendants were only junior SS members, who played a minor role, and are only being prosecuted in lieu of more senior perpetrators who have now passed away.

Of the 6,500 former SS members who served at Auschwitz and survived the war, only 49 have ever been convicted by a German court.

A further 700 were tried and convicted in Polish courts, including the notorious camp commandant, Rudolf Höss, who was sentenced to death and hanged in 1947. But thousands have escaped justice.

Neither Mr Groening nor Ms Michnia have sought to hide their pasts, and indeed may have incriminated themselves with frank interviews to the media.

Although he always denied personal responsibility for what happened at Auschwitz, Mr Groening spent years confronting Holocaust deniers and speaking out about the horrors he witnessed there.

“I heard a baby crying,” he told Spiegel magazine in 2005. “The child was lying on the ramp, wrapped in rags. A mother had left it behind, perhaps because she knew women with infants were sent to the gas chambers immediately.

“I saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs. The crying bothered him. He smashed the baby’s head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.”

Ms Michnia appeared in a recent Irish documentary in which Tomi Reichental, a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, attempted to interview her about her time there.

In the course of the documentary, Ms Michnia admitted taking part in the death march.

She may have thought she was safe from further prosecution because she served a year in prison at the end of the way after being found guilty of mistreating prisoners at a British military trial.

So few of those responsible for the genocide of Europe’s Jews have been held to account in postwar Germany that the German writer and Holocaust survivor Ralph Giordano described it as a “second guilt”.

But in 2011 a German court found John Demjanjuk, a Soviet prisoner-of-war who volunteered as an SS guard, guilty of being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews at the Sobibor extermination camp.

When Thomas Walther, a government official tasked with investigating Nazi crimes, sought to bring charges against Demjanjuk, his colleagues laughed.

But the case overturned years of legal precedent in the German courts that only the senior Nazi leadership could be held responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust. For the first time, anyone who had been a guard at a death camp could be held guilty.

After the judgement, there was a scramble by prosecutors to open new cases against surviving Nazis.

In 2013, investigations were announced against 30 former SS members who served at Auschwitz. Many have since died or been ruled too ill to stand trial.

World War Two

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