50 face arrest as Germany swoops on Nazi suspects

Kurt Schrimm: Recommending charges against most suspects. Picture: AP
Kurt Schrimm: Recommending charges against most suspects. Picture: AP
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GERMANY is poised to begin issuing arrest warrants for nearly 50 elderly people – including six women – who served in wartime as guards at the Auschwitz extermination camp in Nazi- occupied Poland, where 1.2 million people were murdered.

The first to be indicted is expected to be Hans Lipschis, 93. Born in Lithuania in 1919 and granted “ethnic German” status in 1943, he is accused of working at Auschwitz-Birkenau as a member of the SS from 1941 to 1945. He is suspected of having participated in murder and genocide.

Lipschis’ name was added this year to a list of Nazi criminals published by Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s office in Israel.

Kurt Schrimm, who runs the German government’s Nazi-hunting agency, the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, yesterday said 40 men and six women suspected of being guards at Auschwitz have been traced in Germany alone. He said he planned to issue more details next week. His agency would be “recommending charges against most”.

State prosecutors then have to review the cases and decide if there is enough evidence to press charges. All the women under investigation were said to have been SS guards in the women’s section of Auschwitz and the youngest is 87.

“We are carrying out investigations on the grounds of aiding and abetting murder for those who were exercising the duty of a guard,” said Thomas Will, an investigator with the agency. “The same applies to women if they were guards.”

“We do not know of any executions committed by a female guard, but some treated prisoners very brutally and have been convicted of war crimes,” Mr Schrimm said. He gave no names of the female suspects.

The new supects may find themselves in the dock because of the groundbreaking conviction of John Demnjanuk in a Munich court two years ago. Demjanjuk was found to have served in the extermination camp of Sobibor, also in Nazi- occupied Poland, during a period when 28,000 Dutch Jews were gassed.

No-one was alive to testify against him, no-one knew what he did in the camp. But the court ruled that the mere fact he was in such a place of horror made him culpable as an accessory to murder.

He was sentenced to five years and was out pending an appeal when he died in March last year.

Lipschis, who was tracked down to a retirement home near Stuttgart by a German newspaper, denies involvement in the mass murder of Jews at Auschwitz, claiming he was a cook – a defence that will not help him if he is charged with being an accessory to murder.

Paperwork has surfaced that shows he was a member of an SS batallion that supervised the unloading of the trains which brought doomed victims from all over Europe to Auschwitz.