BERLIN — A 101-year-old former concentration camp guard was convicted on Tuesday by a German court of complicity in more than 3,500 murders and sentenced to five years in prison, although it was not clear whether he would ever serve a prison term.
The man, widely described in German media as the oldest person ever tried on charges of the Nazi era, worked from 1942 to 1945 as an SS guard at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, north of Berlin. the camp, and the prosecutors could not directly link him to the deaths of the prisoners.
A lawyer for the man, identified only as Josef S. due to Germany’s strict privacy laws, said he would appeal the decision if authorities followed him and try to send him to prison. That move would also require a statement from a medical commission stating that his health was stable enough to undergo incarceration.
“We operate on the simple principle that murder has no statute of limitations,” said Thomas Will, head of the German government office charged with investigating Nazi-era crimes. The agency found Mr. S. in 2018 after searching through the records of the concentration camps that the Red Army had brought to Moscow. “It is what is right and of course it would have been right 70 years ago.”
As the perpetrators of the Holocaust grow scarcer and older, German prosecutors and investigators rush to bring the remaining cases to trial.
Their efforts were supported by a ruling by Germany’s highest criminal court, which found that people who worked as guards in concentration camps could be convicted even if no specific crimes could be proven against them.
Tuesday’s ruling gave prosecutors a much easier path to pursue suspected war criminals, as decades of being just a cog in the Nazi machinery is insufficient ground to reach a conviction.
A 97-year-old woman is currently on trial in the northern city of Itzehoe for her role as camp secretary at Stutthof concentration camp, near today’s Polish city of Gdansk.