Germany tries 94 year old SS camp guard as a juvenile


The last few Nazi prosecutions I’ve heard about on this forum have left me with a sense that some people confuse justice with revenge, and mercy with weakness. The only Nazis who are still alive from that era were little more than child soldiers at the time. They surely were not people who made policy, and they most likely were tasked with performing their atrocities at gunpoint. The choice offered was bleak - to guard the death camps or to die inside them.

It is easy to condemn them - state that they should have died rather than further the evils of their regime. But in that time and place? The human body wants to live - it fights back against death. The human spirit also can be broken - retreating inside itself and permitting great evil in order perhaps to live another day.

My father served as a US airman during that same war. He completed a distinguished tour of service, coming home with decorations up to and including the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was not yet twenty when the Japanese surrendered. Had the outcome been different, he would surely have been a war criminal for his participation in the bombing of civilians. He surely was not proud of his military career, and never spoke about it in later life. He did, though, view it as an unfortunate necessity, believing that even more innocents would have died had the war not been brought to a speedy close. In any case, he was an airman, in a society that had adopted total war. He fought. He followed orders. He from time to time saved the lives of his buddies. That’s what soldiers, and sailors, airmen and Marines do.

Or, to put the shoe on the other foot, imagine a court some decades hence trying you for the atrocities committed in the name of the United States. Would you be quick to condemn your friends and family for not interposing their own bodies to prevent the imprisonment of innocent children, drone strikes on equally innocent victims, or the rendition of our own citizens abroad for torture? What about the inner-city kid who hears, ‘sentence suspended if you enlist,’ or simply signs up to get out of a violent community?

Were we to look back on WWII and admit guilt for the atrocities of our own nation, I cannot believe it would be fair to impose the complete blame on those who were still in their teens, in a society where military service was expected of all. It’s likewise unfair to ascribe full responsibility for atrocities committed by an ancient man who was a youth, without full civic rights or responsibilities, at the time that they occurred. In fairness, I have to assign the same degree of responsibility to the youth of our enemies. It is right that the judge and jury in this case should be tasked with determining the extent to which the defendant was responsible for his own actions, and wrong to condemn from afar the system that requires that determination.

The fact that the black teenagers in our midst have an even harder road obtaining mercy, or even justice, merely means that we need to work to uplift them as well - not that we must demand that mercy be denied to someone who is perhaps less deserving of it. The fight for justice, and the dispensation of mercy, are not a competition.


Just FTR, in addition to what @Jorn_C wrote: according to the Tagesspiegel, the pixelation has nothing to do with the age when the crimes were committed.

Der Prozess hat noch gar nicht richtig begonnen, da spricht sich der Verteidiger Andreas Tinkl für eine richterliche Anordnung aus, Fotos des Angeklagten zu verpixeln. Er argumentiert nicht nur mit dem Schutz der Privatsphäre, sondern auch mit dem fortgeschrittenen Alter des Angeklagten, der „körperlich nicht in allzu blendender Verfassung“ sei. Das Gericht entscheidet, dass Bilder unkenntlich gemacht werden müssen. Der Angeklagte habe die Öffentlichkeit nicht selbst gesucht und lebe in einer kleinen Gemeinde, was eine Stigmatisierung befürchten lasse.

In a nutshell: his lawyer asked for it, and the judge ordered the pixelation. Arguments were: privacy of the defendant, his advanced age and a possible social stigmatisation given he is living in a small community.



Oh, is that all?

Do send out a memo, whenever that finally happens…




You’re right, nothing ‘merely’ about the task; would you accept the statement without an adverb?


It might have been taken better if your comment had seemed neither so glib nor condescending.

But as it stands, it came off as needlessly dismissive, at best.


In that case, help me edit it for tone.

What I wish to point out is that no matter how heinous the crime of which he stands accused, he is not yet a convict, and he enjoys a right to a fair trial according to the legal system of the nation that is trying him. Add to that the idea that a fair trial may find that the cold case leaves insufficient evidence to convict, or that he was of diminished responsibility on account of youth and duress.

I wish to reject as irrelevant the argument that the benefit of law should be denied to this defendant because it has been denied to others. That is an attack on the speaker as hypocritical, without addressing the merits of the argument. How does denying a fair trial in this particular case advance the rights of those others?

I doubt that there is any tone in which these statements could be cast that would not come across as condescending.


That’s not my responsibility.

Your very last paragraph referenced a valid point made about personal dubious feelings regarding how “justice” in this world is meted out unequally… and if you don’t understand why your criticism came across so poorly, then frankly, I don’t know what to tell you.


Are you serious?

Oh, are you the judge here?


You don’t get to reject arguments then. You just suffer through them like the rest of us.


I said that I reject the argument. I didn’t say that you may not accept it.


All of these are arguments that such accused make in their trials. That’s what trials are for.

Unfortunately for your argument and the defendants, the evidence just does not back that up:

For those who don’t read German and for whom the auto-translation is too crappy, the TL:DR is that since the central authority for coordinating criminal proceedings about NS-era crimes was established in 1958, it has looked for evidence about the claim that refusing to participate in these atrocities would have lead to the defendant’s death.

It’s an argument that was in fact used with a great deal of success in the 50s and 60s.

But then the evidence to date is that no one has been able to find a single case where someone refused and was killed for it.

To the contrary, the evidence in fact indicates that people were frequently given the opportunity to decline to take part in atrocities and that people did decline with no worse effect than to be shunned by their comrades.

I think you mean that had the outcome been different he might have been tried and convicted of war crimes/executed without trial.

He either was a war criminal or he wasn’t. Which side he was on doesn’t change that. It only changes the reality of whether anyone will do anything about it.

And “just following orders” is per the United States not a sufficient answer for military personnel and hasn’t been since at least the Second World War.

And no one is doing that…

I’m really not sure what your point is unless it’s that you want to reintroduce the ‘superior orders’ defence as a complete bar to prosecution.


I was perhaps reading more into posts than the posters intended - but there did appear to be voices saying that the accusations are too heinous for him to deserve a fair hearing - with all the protection that the law of the country trying him affords. But if we tear down the ramparts of law to get at a particularly wicked defendant, then who among us could hope to survive a wrongful accusation?

An example was the outcry against the way that the defendant’s face was shrouded in the photographs. Failing to do so would, in most of Europe, be regarded as a horrible infringement on the right to due process. The American ceremony of the ‘perp walk’ in which a prominent arrestee is paraded into a jail or courthouse under the eye of the media, would be regarded as a lawless act, presuming guilt. (I personally think those countries are on to something. The ‘perp walk’ serves two purposes: poisoning the jury pool and improving the prosecutor’s chance for reëlection.)

I was therefore arguing, perhaps with excessive zeal, for the presumption of innocence.

“Superior orders” is surely not a complete defense. It is accounted for, though, sometimes, as a diminution of responsibility in a sentencing hearing. Otherwise, we would have hanged many thousands of common soldiers. Moreover, the decision to be merciful to the lesser criminals was made consciously. The Morgenthau Plan was rejected. The criminals among the rank and file went unpunished in the belief that justice would be better served in the long run by forging a lasting peace. The Nuremberg trials were of defendants who had command responsibility, not of common soldiers. Does that situation change because we have run out of commanders to try, because all the survivors were too young to be anything but common soldiers? Perhaps - particularly if you think that we must make examples of whoever remains from the defeated regime. It is still important to remember, though, that we are trying them personally, not the evil that they served.


Look… we don’t have the death penalty over here… I think that’s ample of mercy for these individuals. This is not a point of mercy, but of universal legal standards.

Indeed, the court will consider that. They will be treated like every other criminal, for which they can be grateful considering that they took part in a system where not everyone was considered to be worthy to live.


Liked just for heavy metal umlaut.


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