Bruno Dey, 93, is on trial today for his complicity in the death of more than 5,000 people at a Nazi concentration camp
A 93-year-old former SS guard went on trial in Germany today for complicity in the murder of more than 5,000 people at a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, in what could be one of the last such cases.
Bruno Dey stands accused of being a ‘cog’ in the Nazi’s ‘murderous machinery’, abetting the death of 5,230 people when he worked at the Stutthof camp near what was then Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland.
‘As an SS guard at Stutthof concentration camp between August 1944 and April 1945, he is believed to have provided support to the gruesome killing of Jewish prisoners in particular,’ prosecutors said in a statement.
Seated in a wheelchair, Dey, who wore a hat, hid his face behind a red ring folder as he entered the courtroom.
Although the trial comes late, Jewish groups underlined its importance in light of contemporary far-right anti-Semitic violence like last week’s deadly shooting in the eastern city of Halle.
‘Why are you doing this trial today? Remember what happened in Halle last week,’ said Efraim Zuroff of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre, in reference to the attack that included a synagogue among targets.
‘Old age should not be a reason not to judge… He was part of the greatest tragedy in history, it was his will.’
Seated in a wheelchair, Dey, who wore a hat, hid his face behind a red ring folder as he entered the courtroom
During Dey’s time at the camp, the ‘Final Solution’ order to exterminate Jews was issued by the Nazi leadership, leading to the systematic killing of inmates in gas chambers, while others died of starvation or because they were denied medical care, prosecutors said.
Despite his advanced age, Dey is being tried by a juvenile court in Hamburg because he was 17 when he first worked at Stutthof.
According to German media, Dey, who now lives in Hamburg, became a baker after the war.
Married with two daughters, he supplemented his income by also working as a truck driver, before later taking on a job in building maintenance.
Despite his advanced age, Dey is being tried by a juvenile court in Hamburg (pictured) because he was 17 when he first worked at Stutthof
Women hold a banner reading ‘Auschwitz Committee’ outside the court house, a group founded by survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp
The law finally caught up with him as a result of the legal precedent set when former guard John Demjanjuk was convicted in 2011 on the basis that he served as part of the Nazi killing machine at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland.
Since then, Germany has been racing to put on trial surviving SS personnel on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.
In the same vein, Dey is ‘accused of having contributed as a cog in the murder machine, in full knowledge of the circumstances, so that the order to kill could be carried out,’ prosecutors said.
Dey reportedly did not deny working at the camp during pre-trial questioning.
But he said he ended up in the SS-Totenkopfsturmbahn (Death’s Head Battalion) that ran the camp only because of a heart condition that prevented him from being sent to the front, according to Tagesspiegel daily.
Citing prosecution documents, the newspaper said Dey argued that he killed no one and questioned what a 17-year-old forced to become a camp guard could do against Adolf Hitler’s regime.
The Nazis set up the Stutthof camp (pictured) in 1939, initially using it for the detention of Polish political prisoners
‘The accused was no ardent worshipper of Nazi ideology,’ prosecutors say in the indictment, reviewed by The Associated Press. ‘But there is also no doubt that he never actively challenged the persecutions of the Nazi regime.’
Dey also reportedly confirmed he knew of the camp’s gas chambers, where he saw SS prisoners being pushed inside.
He admitted seeing ’emaciated figures, people who had suffered’, but insisted he was not guilty, according to the daily Die Welt.
‘What good would it have done? They would have just found someone else,’ he replied when asked why he did not put in a transfer to fight at the front, according to the newspaper.
The Nazis set up the Stutthof camp in 1939, initially using it for the detention of Polish political prisoners.
But it ended up holding 110,000 detainees, including many Jews. Some 65,000 people perished in the camp.
From about 1940, it was used as a so-called ‘work education camp’ where forced la labourers, primarily Polish and Soviet citizens, were sent to serve sentences and often died. Others incarcerated there included criminals, political prisoners, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Dey faces a possible six months to 10 years in prison if convicted. In Germany there are no consecutive sentences
From mid-1944, when 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 being given lethal injections of gasoline or phenol directly to their hearts, shot or starved.
Others were forced outside in winter without clothes until they died of exposure, or put to death in a gas chamber.
Asked if he knew who was being killed, Dey told prosecutors his SS comrades talked of the ‘extermination of the Jews’ and said he had ‘done people wrong’ by serving there.
‘I did not know why they were there,’ Dey told prosecutors. ‘I knew well that they were Jews who had committed no crime, that they were only there because they were Jews.
‘And they have the same right to live and to work like any other person. But it was just that Hitler or his party were against that, who had something against the Jews.’
Today’s trial is among a handful of the final such cases involving surviving SS personnel.
Since the landmark Demjanjuk ruling, German courts have convicted Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at the same camp, for complicity in mass murder.
Both men were found guilty at age 94 but died before they could be imprisoned.
In April, a German judge suspended the trial of a former Stutthof concentration camp guard after the 95-year-old defendant was hospitalised with heart and kidney problems.
Dey faces a possible six months to 10 years in prison if convicted. In Germany there are no consecutive sentences.
Waterkamp said it is difficult for his client to talk about his Stutthof past, but that he is expected to answer questions from the court and might make a statement as well.