BERLIN – A 94-year-old man serving as a guard in Hitler’s SS clenched his sugar cane as a fogman in a court on Tuesday because he would begin his trial because he had helped kill hundreds of 60,000 people perished in Stutthof concentration camp.
Johann Rehbogen was still a teenager when he started working as a guard at the camp where he was stationed between June 1942 and September 1944. Because he was under 21 years of age when the alleged crimes were committed, the case was tried before a youth chair , where the maximum sentence he could meet is 10 years in prison.
The prosecution lists the deaths of more than 1
00 Polish prisoners and at least 77 Soviet POWs, as well as “an unknown number – at least several hundred Jewish prisoners” killed in the gas chambers or otherwise during their time in Stutthof, located on the Baltic Sea coast near which is now the city of Gdansk in Poland.
More than 140 mostly Jewish women and children were killed by injection of gas or phenol “directly against the heart of the individual”, while “an unknown number catches in different ways, including freezing in the winter of 1943-44” according to the accusation.
“The defendant knew the different methods of killing, he worked to make them all possible,” said Andreas Brendel, a prosecutor for Nazi crimes in the Land of North Rhine Westphalia, who read the charges for the court in Münster.
Seventeen survivors and their families, many of whom live in the United States, Israel and Canada, have joined the trial as co-owners.
Judy Meisel was 12 when she came to Stutthof. At 89, she still remembered standing naked beside her mother in line for the gas chamber. At the last minute a guard showed that she could go back to the barracks. “Run, Judy, run!” Called her mother to her in Yiddish. Ms Meisel never saw her mother again.
“Stutthof was organized mass murder of the SS, made possible by the help of the ward,” she said in a written statement to the court through her lawyer.  “He must take responsibility for what he did in Stutthof, taking responsibility for participating in these unimaginable crimes against humanity,” she said. “To help murder my beloved mom I missed for the rest of my life.”
No remarks entered in Germany, but Rehbogen said through his lawyers that he would raise the court at any occasion in connection with the trial, which is scheduled to be in January. Due to age, trial times are limited to no more than two hours a day for a maximum of two days a week.
For decades, the German legal system insisted that evidence of direct participation in a Nazi crime was needed to charge a perpetrator so that countless low Nazis can live their lives in peace.
It changed after 2011, when a court in Munich found John Demjanjuk as guilty of murder accessories to have served as a guard at Sobibor’s death camp. The court found that there was nothing he might have been unconscious about the killing around him.
Mr. Demjanjuk, who questioned the accusation, died before his challenge that it could be heard ruler. But in 2015, the country’s highest criminal court enforced the conviction of Oskar Gröning, a former Auschwitz guard who was found guilty of the same association that strengthened the legal precedent.
Mr. Brendel said investigators from his office studied hundreds of testimonies, as well as documents from other Nazi attempts. They also flew to interviews survivors, like Ms Meisel, living in Minneapolis.
“Given the camp structure, we think the guards knew what was happening,” said Brendel. “The murder, especially gasification and burning of corpses, could not be covered.”
Established in 1941 as a labor camp, Stutthof later became a concentration camp. In 1944 a gas chamber was established.
Ms. Meisel’s grandson Benjamin Cohen, 34, participated in Tuesday’s trial as part of a documentary he is doing about his life.
“To get her statement read in court today and have her story heard by everyone in the courtroom was so monumental to her and our family,” Cohen said. “It sets in perspective the importance of recognizing these crimes and never stop telling those stories.”