This former Waffen SS non-commissioned officer was found guilty of “complicity” in the murder of at least 3,500 prisoners when he operated between 1942 and 1945 in the Sachsenhausen camp, north of Berlin.

“For three years you watched how prisoners were tortured and killed before your eyes (…) by your positioning on the watchtower of the concentration camp, you constantly had the smoke from the crematorium in your nose”, declared the president of the Court of Brandenburg an der Havel (East) Udo Lechtermann.

“Anyone wanting to flee the camp was shot. Thus, any camp guard actively participated in these murders, he added.

“There are places you shouldn’t be and things you shouldn’t do,” he said.

At the announcement of the sentence, more important than the minimum of three years in prison for complicity in murder registered in German law, the accused in a wheelchair, dressed in a gray shirt and pajama pants, is remained stoic.

His lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, ​​immediately announced that he would go to cassation, postponing at best to 2023 an application of this sentence which seems hypothetical given the fragile state of health of Mr. Schütz.

– No regrets –

Never during the thirty hearings he will have expressed the slightest regret.

On the contrary, on Monday he again denied any involvement, wondering “why he was there”, and affirmed that “everything is false” about him.

Josef Schütz has advanced several, sometimes contradictory, stories about his past.

Lately, he claimed to have left Lithuania at the start of the Second World War to join Germany where he would have worked as a farm laborer throughout the conflict.

A version disputed by several historical documents mentioning in particular his name, date and place of birth proving that he had indeed been assigned from the end of 1942 to the beginning of 1945 to the “Totenkopf” (Death’s Head) division of the Waffen-SS.

After the war, he was transferred to a prison camp in Russia and then settled in Brandenburg (region around Berlin), working as a peasant and then a locksmith, without ever being worried.

– “Warning” –

“The sentence corresponds to the expectations of the plaintiffs, justice has been done”, welcomed the lawyer for 11 of the 16 civil parties Thomas Walther.

“I will never be able to forgive him: every human being facing atrocities has a duty to oppose them”, however castigated, tears in his eyes, Antoine Grumbach, 80, whose father, engaged in the resistance in France , died in Sachsenhausen.

“This verdict marks a criminal commitment for the future and represents a warning to the perpetrators of mass crimes: whatever their level of responsibility, their legal responsibility is engaged”, explained to AFP Guillaume Mouralis, director of research at the CNRS. and member of the Marc Bloch Center in Berlin.

Between its opening in 1936 and its liberation by the Soviets on April 22, 1945, the Sachsenhausen camp saw some 200,000 prisoners, mainly political opponents, Jews and homosexuals.

Tens of thousands of them perished, victims mainly of exhaustion due to forced labor and the cruel conditions of detention.

Yet “simple” camp guard, Mr. Schütz was sentenced to a heavy sentence compared to other recent decisions, illustrating the increased severity, although considered very late by the victims, of German justice.

In July 2020, a court imposed a two-year suspended prison sentence on a former Stutthof camp guard, Bruno Dey, 93.

The most emblematic case was the five-year prison sentence of former Sobibor extermination camp guard John Demjanjuk in 2011. He appealed and died a year later without being imprisoned.