Ex-Nazi Concentration Camp Guard, Age 94, Is on Trial in German Juvenile Court

Accused of being an accessory to numerous murders, he claims he knew nothing of the killings

The 94-years-old defendant, a former SS guard, holds his walking stick as he has taken seat for his trial at the regional court in Muenster, western Germany, on November 6, 2018.

Image Credit: GUIDO KIRCHNER/AFP/Getty Images

Johann Rehbogen wasn’t even 20 years old when he started working at the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland.

Though the estimated death toll at the camp — originally a labor camp — numbered over 64,000 people, Rehbogen (whose hand is shown holding a cane in the image above) claims he didn’t participate in the heinous murders for which he’s charged.

He does admit that he worked there, as All That’s Interesting pointed out about the case.

But he insists he was even not aware of the hundreds of deaths that allegedly happened on his watch during two of the six years the camp was running.

More than 70 years since those events, prosecutor Andreas Brendel is doubtful about that claim, to say the least.

“Anyone who heard the screams from outside the gas chamber would have known that people were fighting for their lives,” Brendel reported.

As strange as it may seem for someone who is today in his mid-90s, Rehbogen — who served as a guard between June 1942 and September 1944 — is being tried in a juvenile court in Berlin, Germany, right now because he was not yet 21 at the time he committed crimes for which he’s charged, as The New York Times and other outlets have reported on the case.

His maximum sentence is 10 years in prison.

Lists of the diseased on the indictment include as many as 100 Polish prisoners, a minimum of 77 Soviet P.O.W.s, and an overwhelming and “unknown number [of] — at least several hundred — Jewish prisoners.”

In addition to the other sickening means that were used on scores of innocent souls, the Jewish prisoners were brutally killed in gas chambers, by execution, or by injection of phenol “straight to the heart of the individual prisoner,” the indictment alleges, as The Times noted.

During the winter of 1943-44, in the bitter cold, 140 mostly Jewish woman and children were put to death by means of lethal injection. Many prisoners froze to death as well.

The Stutthof camp was located on the coast of the Baltic Sea, by what is now the city of Gdansk in Poland.

Brendel, the prosecutor, maintains that the former Nazi was very well aware of what was taking place at the camp.

“The defendant knew of the various methods of killing; he worked to make them all made possible,” said the North Rhine-Westphalia prosecutor for Nazi crimes, “who read the charges to the court in Munster,” as The Times reported.

Judy Meisel, who was all of 12 years old when she arrived at the concentration camp, is one of 17 survivors who has joined the trial as a co-plaintiff.

“Stutthof was organized mass murder by the SS, made possible through the help of the guards,” the now 89-year-old woman recalled in her written statement.

All these years later, she can remember standing naked next to her mother, Mika Beker, as they waited in line for one of the gas chambers.

“Run, Judy, Run!” her mother ordered her in Yiddish.

So she did. She never saw her mother again, as The Times also noted of Meisel.

The survivor continued, “He must take responsibility for what he did in Stutthof, take responsibility for participating in these unimaginable crimes against humanity. For helping to murder my beloved mother who I missed for the rest of my life.”

As she also told The Star Tribune last year, “This process of seeking answers and finding justice for my mother gives new meaning to my life.”

The 34-year-old grandson of Judy Meisel, Benjamin Cohen, spoke of how important it was for people to hear his grandmother’s story and other stories as well. He helps maintain a website about her story and her case so keep people updated and informed.

“To have her statement read in court … and have her story heard by everyone in that courtroom was so monumental for her and for our family,” Cohen told The Times. “It puts into perspective how important it is to acknowledge these crimes and never stop telling these stories.”

Related: U.S. Deports 95-Year-Old Nazi Labor Camp Guard

Cohen is reportedly working on a documentary, which aims to detail his grandmother’s life and all she has been through over the years.

The trial, which may last until January, is consisting of sessions limited to a mere two hours a day — and is scheduled to be held a maximum of two days a week, due to the defendant’s advanced age.

“Given the structure of the camp, we believe that the guards knew what was happening. The killings, especially the gassing and burning of corpses, could not be covered up,” the prosecutor said.

Rehbogen said through his lawyer that he would address the court at some point during the hearings.

In addition to having several survivors fly in to attend the proceedings so that they can share their personal stories with the court, Brendel said investigators have been studying countless documents from past Nazi trials, as well as testimonies.

“Given the structure of the camp, we believe that the guards knew what was happening. The killings, especially the gassing and burning of corpses, could not be covered up,” Brendel told The Times.

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