Two men who served as guards at the Nazis’ Stutthof concentration camp near what is now Gdansk, Poland, are expected to go on trial in Germany this spring, and a German lawyer is looking for potential co-plaintiffs to join the case.
Prosecutors will try to prove that from their position as guards, the men could see all the crimes and the deadly conditions of Stutthof and thus share the blame for the deaths, said Christoph Rueckel, who spoke in Atlanta in December 2016 about the successful prosecutions in 2014 and 2015 of two SS soldiers at Auschwitz, Oskar Groening and Reinhold Hanning.
The trial of the two Germans in their 90s on charges of being accessories to murder is likely to be one of the last prosecutions for crimes committed during the Holocaust, but it’s also the first time that survivors are being accepted as co-plaintiffs, Rueckel said.
In the Groening and Hanning cases, relatives of people killed at Auschwitz were accepted as co-plaintiffs and allowed to give testimony. But survivors without family members slain at Auschwitz were excluded because they weren’t victims of the crime of murder.
But a German court has decided that the conditions at the camps were so horrible that being sent to a camp represented an attempt at murder, so a survivor can provide evidence of a guard’s guilt of being an accessory to attempted murder, Rueckel said.
“Stutthof was very cruel,” he said. “Information from witnesses is that if you were two weeks in Stutthof, you were already dead.”
An estimated 65,000 people died at Stutthof. Some were gassed or shot; others starved or froze or were worked to death.
Rueckel is looking for any relatives of people who were killed at or survived Stutthof, as well as anyone who was imprisoned there, although he said that finding people in their 90s who lived through those horrors and can give accurate witness statements is difficult.
Co-plaintiffs may testify at the trial. Those who can’t travel to Germany can provide depositions for admission in court. Rueckel said co-plaintiffs do not have to pay any legal fees.
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