Former Auschwitz guard dies days before opening of trial

Ernst T., a 93-year-old German who served as a guard at the Auschwitz death camp, escaped justice for the last time when he died last week – just days before going on trial. 

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

A 93-year-old German who worked as a guard at the Auschwitz death camp has died days before his trial was due to open.

Ernst T., whose full name wasn’t given in keeping with German privacy rules, allegedly played a part in the deportation of prisoners from Nazi transit camps in Berlin, Drancy in occupied France, and Westerbork in the occupied Netherlands.

Prosecutors say at least 1,075 prisoners were gassed to death shortly after arriving at Auschwitz. The suspect allegedly was a member of the SS-Totenkopfsturmbann group and served as a guard in Auschwitz from Nov 1, 1942 to June 25, 1943.

The man was to go on trial next Wednesday at a court in Hanau, near Frankfurt, on charges of accessory to murder. The court confirmed his death Thursday.

Germany Rectifying Past Failures

German judicial authorities have in the past years made a final push to prosecute Nazi criminals, just before they escape justice for the last time, like Ernst T. did.

This attempt to put another Nazi criminal on trial is one of the latest that follow a precedent set in 2011, when former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk became the first person to be convicted in Germany solely for serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of involvement in a specific killing.

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The verdict vastly widened the number of possible prosecutions, establishing that simply helping the camp to function was sufficient to make one an accessory to the murders committed there. Before that, prosecutors needed to present evidence of a specific crime — a difficult task with few surviving witnesses and perpetrators whose names were rarely known and whose faces were often only seen briefly.

There is no question there were “some serious failures by the German judicial system in the past,” says Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. But “that doesn’t in any way change the validity of what’s happening now.”

“In a certain sense, you could say these people had the bad luck to live a long life,” he told the AP in a telephone interview from Jerusalem. “If they had died five years ago they would never have been going to trial.”