A 101-year-old man accused of being a guard at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp is denying the accusations against him, claiming he was merely a farmhand working nearby the camp, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports.
The man, Josef S., spoke out on Thursday for the first time since his trial began. In his statement, which was read by his defense lawyer, he declared that he was a laborer at a factory and farm, not an SS watchman who aided in the murder of thousands of prisoners between 1941 and 1945 as the prosecution alleges.
He told the court that he worked for a "small company" producing spare parts for the Nazi regime, before going to work on a large farm in northern Germany. When the presiding judge asked if he had ever worked in a Nazi uniform, he said “no”.
Thomas Walther, a spokesman for the prosecution, called the defendant's story "not credible" and "an escape from reality...a denial of his life."
The trial of Josef S. began in October. He is accused of being complicit in the deaths of 3,518 prisoners at Sachsenhausen and is the oldest defendant to be tried in a court for crimes committed during the Nazi era.
He is accused of participating in the shooting of Russian prisoners of war and the murder of other inmates with Zyklon B gas.
Shortly after his trial began, Josef S. declared that he is innocent and insisted that he knew nothing about what happened at the camp.
Prosecutors relied on expert evidence from historians as well as primary source documents that show someone with the same name and place of birth as the defendant was listed as an SS watchman at the Sachsenhausen camp.
Germany’s 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. He died in 2012.
Last year, 93-year-old Stutthof camp guard Bruno Dey was convicted of 5,232 counts of accessory to murder in Hamburg state court, equal to the number of people believed to have been killed at Stutthof during his service there in 1944 and 1945.
Earlier this year, German prosecutors charged a 100-year-old man who allegedly served as a Nazi concentration camp guard where more than 100,000 people were killed during World War II.
Days earlier, Germany charged a former secretary from the Stutthof Nazi concentration camp with complicity in the murders of 10,000 people.
Recently, Irmgard Furchner, a 96-year-old former secretary at Stutthof, failed to turn up for her trial after leaving her retirement home near Hamburg.