Monday, February 29, opens in Neubrandenburg (northwest Germany) the trial of Hubert Zafke , 95, a former nurse tried Auschwitz for “complicity” in the extermination of 3,681 Jews. The man was 19 years old at the time and was in office when the convoy Anne Frank Otto and Edith’s parents and her older sister Margot arrived. The court initially refused in June 2015 to open a trial, citing the declining health of the old man. A decision overturned on appeal on the grounds that the former SS is not entirely unfit to stand trial.
However, the issue of former judge very old Nazis arises again. A dozen procedures are still underway in Germany after the sentencing to four years in prison Oskar Gröning, former accountant of Auschwitz. Certainly, these late trials illustrate the German will to try until the last criminal in the Third Reich, but for Serge Klarsfeld , president of the association of son and daughters of Jews deported from France, until this justice at endian, generally exercised without evidence, is problematic. Interview.
Such trial-they still mean more than 70 years after the end of the Second World War and in the face of very old accused?
– The German company is today made up the great majority of people who have not experienced the Third Reich and the favorable judgment of Nazi criminals until their last breath . It was 50 years ago, this was not the case: the major Nazi criminals were protected by the German company then composed of people who had lived and supported the Third Reich. There has been certainly a positive development of the German company that understood the importance and immensity of the crime that had been committed and who would like Nazi criminals to trial.
Simply, it was 50 years ago, there were still criminals makers who have played an important role and for which there was, if not witnesses, documents signed by them, they were recipients where it was about their activities. At the time, we found medical excuses not to judge them or not sentencing.
Today, deemed criminals were subordinate positions at the bottom of the pyramid of crime, for which there is no longer any witnesses or documents. But German justice now, always docile to the will of the company, believes that a suspect, even if he is no evidence, if it was in a position, even quite subordinate and external crime, is considered criminal unless he proves his innocence. For example: accountants had no contact with prisoners, they counted the money of people who arrived at Auschwitz. They knew we murdered but they did not kill, they were a small cog. A gear which we do not even know what was the behavior at the time. But we judge them as accomplices but can not prove their personal involvement and will almost inevitably doomed. So me it hits my sense of justice
hard not to judge either …
-. I am not against, but I am not for either. This is an ambiguous situation. In my career, I never wanted to judge other criminals than those for which evidence existed. I have never been involved, beat me until I was convinced of the guilt of someone as convinced that he had a free will and he had the means to judge what was doing. I took care to consider whether it had the means to escape from the place assigned to him if he could help it. I can not fight against someone who has the place where he was, showed human feelings, did his best. There, it is young people who were 18 years old at the time and who were at the bottom of the social pyramid. It has nothing to do with a decision-criminal who would not be at risk and that men organized mass death.
In the case of Hubert Zafke, I confess myself powerless to nurse I do not know if, in relation to a convoy which arrived Anne Frank, he addressed a smile saddened to that family or if he gave them a kick in the ass. When we do not know, it’s difficult to blame.
And then find yourself facing an old man, like John Demjanjuk [Ukrainian goalkeeper Sobibor camp condemned in 2011, note] that was on a stretcher, drooling mouth open, and do not say a word, it’s a little disarming. But justice in these cases, is symbolic.
Why then did it take so long to bring them before justice?
– After the war, West Germany would not judge the major criminals, those who organized the arrest and deportation of 3,000 to 4,000 people each time. Why ? Because these were people who had received an education. They were recycled in Germany in an honorable situation they were businessmen, lawyers, judges, senior civil servants. The basic SS, who was not part and which killed a child in a Polish ghetto, with two witnesses on the other hand it was doomed. It has sometimes found a number of criminals, but it was with reluctance.
In the 1970s, a machine head of Oradour-sur-Glane, who was 19 at the time, was indicted by prosecutors in Dortmund. But the president of the Assize Court of Cologne miners refused to open the trial saying it did not have enough evidence, despite the implausibility of his statement where he claimed not to have drawn. Besides West Germany never wanted to judge the general Lammerding, the top official of Oradour-sur-Glane.
And you say, today is the reverse: one can condemn a nurse or an accountant to which there is no evidence …
– the German court has extended the notion of guilt, which was restricted to serious criminals before. John Demjanjuk had made an appeal after being sentenced to Munich in 2010, arguing that this interpretation was invalid and had to prove personal involvement of someone in a specific crime. But he died before his appeal could not be examined by the German Supreme Court.
In the absence, for now interpretation of guilt on this extension, the German court before the pressure of public opinion, can not say she can not prove she jeopardizes the personal guardian. She now considers that the crime was a terrible crime, it can not tolerate people who were guards at Auschwitz are unpunished, that Germany must redeem himself. While many believe that even those who occupied subordinate positions must be condemned without examination of their personal behavior. She prefers to be able to judge the criminals until their last breath leaves to give them an automatic sentence of three to four years in prison that we can not apply because of the advanced age of the accused. All employees are guilty of Auschwitz, even the mason.
This is a complex and ambiguous situation because this is the last round of a judicial process that never takes place in the history.
There have been these past 70 years, an exceptional effort with justice courts allied, French and German national justice. Should not it ends in a kind of malaise to see people unable to defend themselves, tried and sentenced automatically
Interview by Sarah Diffalah