Trial of former SS medic opens after long delay

Trial of 95-year-old Hubert Zafke, who served at Auschwitz, opens in Germany amid health concerns.

Ben Ariel ,

Auschwitz
Auschwitz
Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90

The oft-delayed trial of a 95-year-old former SS medic who served at the Auschwitz death camp finally opened on Monday in Germany, The Associated Press reports.

The trial of Hubert Zafke, scheduled to start in February at the Neubrandenburg state court in northeastern Germany, had been postponed three times after presiding Judge Klaus Kabisch determined Zafke wasn’t well enough to participate, based on a doctor’s assessment.

Even as the trial began however, lingering questions about whether the 95-year-old is fit enough for the proceedings to continue.

The retired farmer has suffered from stress and high blood pressure and had suicidal thoughts, the court was told. Already in 2015, the Neubrandenburg court ruled against bringing the case to trial due to Zafke’s health, but a higher court overturned that, saying that the trial could go ahead if the sessions were limited.

Zafke was examined again Monday morning ahead of the court session, and Kabisch decided to proceed, according to AP.

His trial is one of several against Nazi war criminals in recent years, as German prosecutors have attempted to bring surviving Holocaust perpetrators to justice while there is still time.

The crackdown on Nazi war criminals began following the 2011 Munich trial of John Demjanjuk, a Nazi war criminal charged of assisting in the murder of 28,060 people at the Sobibor death camp and sentenced to five years.

Zafke was pushed into court in a wheelchair on Monday, holding a wooden cane in his hand, and made no comment as the charges against him were read, saying only “yes” that he had understood them, the dpa news agency reported.

As the trial opened, prosecutors and attorneys representing Auschwitz victims who are co-plaintiffs both filed motions accusing Kabisch of bias for his previous rulings on Zafke’s health, asking for his removal.

Prosecutors argued in their motion that Kabisch never intended for the trial to start, noting — among other things — that no Auschwitz survivors had been invited to testify, as is common in such proceedings, dpa reported.

Monday’s session was ended after two hours when a medic noted that Zafke’s blood pressure had risen to an elevated 160:90.

Zafke is charged with 3,681 counts of accessory to murder for allegedly helping the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland function, according to AP.

The charges stem from a one-month period in 1944 and involve the deaths of Jews who arrived in 14 train transports, among them one that brought Anne Frank and her family to the camp. Frank died later at Bergen-Belsen, and Zafke is not charged over her death.



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