German prosecutors on Friday charged a 95-year-old man with more than 36,000 counts of accessory to murder over his alleged time as a Nazi concentration camp guard during World War II.
The allegations against the accused, identified only as Hans H., concern atrocities committed at the Mauthausen camp in Austria, the Berlin public prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Hans H. is believed to have belonged to the SS-Totenkopfsturmbann (Death’s Head Battalion) between summer 1944 and spring 1945 at Mauthausen, part of the Nazis’ vast network of concentration camps where inmates were forced to perform slave labour.
Prosecutors argue that by working as a guard at the site, the accused contributed to tens of thousands of prisoner deaths.
During his time at the camp, at least 36,223 inmates died. Guards took part in killings by gas, fatal injections, gunfire and other means, while many more prisoners died of hunger or frostbite, prosecutors said.
“The accused is believed to have been aware of all the methods of killing as well as the disastrous living conditions of the inmates,” their statement said.
“It is believed that he knew these methods of killing were used against a large number of people and that they could only be killed in this way, with this degree of regularity, if the victims were guarded by people like him.”
A total of 200,000 people were held at Mauthausen, half of whom died before the camp’s liberation by US troops in May 1945.
A Berlin court must now decide whether the case against Hans H. can proceed.
Germany has been racing to put on trial surviving SS personnel, after the legal basis for prosecuting former Nazis changed in 2011 with the landmark conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk.
He was sentenced on the grounds that he served as a cog in the Nazi killing machine at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland, rather than for murders or atrocities linked to him personally.
German courts subsequently convicted Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at the same camp, for complicity in mass murder.
Both men were convicted at age 94 but died before they could be imprisoned.
Earlier this month, a former Nazi concentration camp guard, Johann Rehbogen, went on trial in the western city of Muenster accused of complicity in mass murder at the Stutthof camp in occupied Poland.