HAMBURG, Germany — A German court on Thursday found a former Nazi SS camp guard guilty of 5,232 counts of accessory to murder and one case of accessory to attempted murder — equal to the number of people believed to have been killed at Stutthof concentration camp during his service there.
A statement from the court said it had given Bruno Dey, 93, a two-year juvenile sentence, which has been suspended.
“How could you get used to the horror?” presiding judge Anne Meier-Goering asked as she announced the verdict.
Dey was 17, and later 18, at the time of his alleged crimes which were consequently heard in juvenile court in Hamburg. The German nonagenarian, who is in a wheelchair, faced a possible sentence of six months to 10 years in prison.
Dey has acknowledged hearing screams from the camp’s gas chamber while serving as a guard and seeing corpses taken to be burned. But he said he never fired his weapon.
In a closing statement to the court earlier this week, Dey, apologized for his role in the Nazis’ machinery of destruction, saying “it must never be repeated.”
“Today, I want to apologize to all of the people who went through this hellish insanity,” he said.
Prosecutors had sought a three-year prison sentence. Defense attorney Stefan Waterkamp had argued for an acquittal, saying that Dey found himself working at Stutthof only by circumstance and that he would have been in danger himself if he had tried to get out of guard duty.
“How could an 18-year-old step out of line in a situation like this?” Waterkamp asked while giving his closing argument.
Relatives and representatives of dozens of survivors of the Stutthof Nazi camp joined the trial as co-plaintiffs and urged the court to convict Dey, but have not pushed for a punishment beyond the prosecution’s recommendation.
The case has reverberated among some Holocaust survivors around the world.
During a Zoom call of survivors of the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp hosted by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation, the consensus was that Dey should be punished for his actions.
“You can’t get away with it,” said Peter Somogyi, who was experimented on along with his twin brother but managed to survive the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp nonetheless. “You’re guilty, you have to pay the price.”
Angela Orosz, whose mother gave birth to her in Auschwitz-Birkenau, said for her the most important thing was that the case was being publicized and was getting attention.
“This is what we’re trying to teach our children — you are responsible for whatever you do in life,” she said.
For years now, every trial of a former Nazi has been described as likely Germany’s last. But, the special prosecutor’s office that investigates Nazi-era crimes has more than a dozen ongoing investigations.
A court in the western German city of Wuppertal confirmed to NBC News Thursday that it had received the prosecution papers for another Stutthof guard last week.
The case involving a 95-year-old German man was transferred to Wuppertal from a court in Münster. A court date is yet to be set and the court said it is awaiting a medical assessment to see if he is fit to stand trial.
Carlo Angerer and Kelly Cobiella reported from Hamburg. Saphora Smith from London.