Seventy-four years after General Jodl declared the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany is dealing with its last Nazi trials. One defendant just died at age 96. In Hamburg, a former guard at the Stutthof concentration camp is waiting for his trial.
On April 2nd, 1944, eighty-six boys and men died in the French village of Ascq in the very north of France. They were 15 to 75 years old and unarmed. Some were employees of the French railroad company, others were students or farmers. They were picked up and shot by a division of Hitler’s Waffen-SS.
Karl Münter in France
The German murderers wanted to shoot even more residents of the village. But the Wehrmacht’s military police stopped them. Even in their eyes, the bloodshed in Ascq seemed to be too much, maybe because the victims were not Jews or other people labelled as “subhuman beings” by the Nazis.
One of the Waffen-SS soldiers in that village was Karl Münter. He was 21 years old at the time. Little did he know that he would be made responsible for the murders he participated in, 74 years later in a free and democratic Germany. But before the trial ended, Münter died last weekend at the age of 96.
In 1949, Münter was sentenced to death in France for his participation in the crime. But he was allowed to live in his home town in northern Germany for decades anyway. A year before his death, he was finally taken to court. In an interview conducted last month, he said he would want another ‘Führer’ like Hitler to rule Germany. Also he disputed the Holocaust even took place and stressed he did not regret anything.
Get-Togethers With Neo-Nazis
Karl Münter, who was admired and visited by neo-Nazis, was one of the last Nazi henchmen to see the inside of a German courthouse. Because of the murders committed by his Waffen-SS division, Lucien Albert would never see his family again. The same applied to Henri Averlon, Claude Averlon, René Balois, Gaston Baratte, Louis Beghan and 80 more village residents, including Jean Roques who was 15 years old when he was shot to death.
Shortly after the German authorities started investigating Karl Münter in 2015, for complicity in murder in 86 cases, the prosecution dropped the case because of double jeopardy, meaning one person can not be tried for the same crime twice. Another trial was initiated against Münter, for incitement and defamation of the dead.
After Münter’s death was confirmed earlier this week, all court proceedings were stopped. The residents of Ascq were shocked about the fact that Münter was not tried for the murders, that he was able to just live his life for many decades before the prosecution got to him, and that he welcomed German neo-Nazis in his home for nice little get-togethers.
The Case of Bruno D.
In Hamburg, another suspected Nazi criminal was indicted in April, for complicity in murder in as many as 5,230 cases. His trial is about to commence. Bruno D. is being accused of having supported the murder at the Nazi death camp Stutthof from August of 1944 to April of 1945, during the last months of WWII, while he was a guard.
Because the accused was 17 and turned 18 years old at the time, the trial against the old man will take place in front of a court chamber for minors. Previously, Bruno D. has admitted he was a guard at Stutthof and that he knew about the murders. Within the team of guards, there had been “talk about the annihilation of the Jews”.
The accused also conceded he had known Jews had been murdered “in the gas chamber”, but he rejected the accusations according to which there was a contributory fault in his case.
Few Nazi Criminals Alive
Because of the age of the accused, the court and the prosecution seem to be worried the trial might not succeed. In order to increase the probability for the trial to take place as planned, strict rules for the media are in place. They had to elect a pool photographer because only one person with a camera is allowed to be in the courtroom just before the trial begins.
Flash photography is forbidden. So is talking to the suspect whose lawyer might very well hand in a motion to dismiss the whole thing, due to incompetence to stand trial.
The court’s worries regarding the Bruno D. trial and Karl Münter’s death during his trial show the direction Nazi trials are generally taking. There are only few Nazi criminals who are still alive in 2019, which makes the situation difficult for courts and the prosecution.
West Germany to Blame
In part, Germany itself, meaning its former governments and prosecutors are to blame. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the Bonn governments were not interested in big Nazi trials. For instance, Bonn knew Adolf Eichmann, the ‘architect of the Holocaust’, was hiding in Argentina, but did not do anything to have him extradited and put him on trial.
Fritz Bauer, a regional prosecutor in the federal state of Hesse who had gotten information about Eichmann’s whereabouts in 1957, informed the Mossad, because he was sure the Germans would not do anything and therefore protect Eichmann.
Mossad agents managed to capture Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and bring him to Israel. After a long trial he was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity and executed in 1962. Eichmann is the only person ever to be executed by the predominantly Jewish state.
Investigations in Twenty-Nine Cases
Since few suspected Nazi criminals are alive, the last Nazi trials are taking place now, in a Federal Republic of Germany which does want to put them on trial, decades after West Germany’s first governments tried to avoid anything of the kind.
German prosecution departments are investigating some cases, 74 years after Nazi Germany surrendered and fascism in Europe was finally defeated. In one case, a former guard at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp might get a trial. She is 97 years old today. The accusation is her participation in a death march during which 1400 women died.
There are also investigations against more former guards at Stutthof as well as against twelve former guards in the Nazi’s Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück camps, according to German-language media reports. In addition, six former guards from the Buchenwald concentration camp are under investigation. The total number of cases is 29 right now.