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December 16, 2013 12:36 pm

Germany Investigates 24 Nazi Guards as War Criminals; Suspect Recounts Gas Chamber Horror

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The liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945, a day on which Holocaust survivors sang "Hatikvah," Israel's national anthem. Photo: Imperial War Museums.

Germany’s central authority for the prosecution of Nazi war crimes is investigating 24 individuals, all in their 80s and 90s, for their involvement as concentration camp guards, the UK Daily Mail reported on Monday.

The new investigations from the central authority, based in Ludwigsburg, Germany, come a week after a case was opened against a former Dachau guard, known as Horst P., aged 87. The  former guard was photographed by German media at his home, standing next to a collage he created of his service during the war, including photographs of him in S.S. uniform, beneath the words ‘Mein Kampf,’ the name of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography and manifesto for world domination and war against the Jews.

The Daily Mail said, “Despite the fact there are no witnesses left alive to testify as to what they did, prosecutors hope that the mere fact of serving in a place of suffering and death will be enough to bring charges and guilty verdicts.”

The newspaper profiled several of the guards, including three women, who are under investigation and were tracked down by the German daily newspaper Bild.

Gertru Elli Schmid, 92, was an S.S. guard at Majdanek, in the Polish city of Lublin, where an estimated 235,000 people were murdered in the Holocaust. After Majdanek she was sent to Auschwitz, also in Nazi occupied Poland, where 1.1 million people were exterminated.

Her daughter, pushing Schmid in a wheelchair, told Bild: “We know that my mother had something to do with Auschwitz. We have tried to talk with her about it but her memory doesn’t really function any more.”

Charlotte S., 94, was a guard at the women’s concentration camp of Ravensbrueck, a notoriously brutal camp where she was remembered by survivors as a feared woman who beat prisoners and unleashed her Alsatian dog on them. Tried and convicted in Communist East Germany after the war, she was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for assaults on prisoners and stealing their possessions. In this new case, prosecutors hope to charge her with accessory to murder, the Daily Mail said.

Another man on the wanted list, Oskar Groening, cleared of war crimes in 1948, gave a chilling account of his role, which he admitted to.

Groening served in Auschwitz as a clerk in the department that sorted through the clothes and possessions of the victims.

“I was an official in the prisoners’ possessions administration which basically involved removing the money, jewels and other valuables from the inmates, registering it and sending it back to Berlin. They had diamonds and gold worth millions and it was my duty to make sure all of it got to Berlin,” he said.

“It was completely understood by all that the majority were going straight to the gas chamber, although some believed they were only going to be showered before going to work. Many Jews knew they were going to die. One time a drunken SS man discovered a crying baby on the platform. He grabbed the waif by its legs and smashed its head against the side of a truck. My blood froze when I saw it.”

On one night in January, 1943, Groening saw how the Jews were actually gassed:

“It was in a half-built farmyard near to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. A gas chamber was built there. We were searching the wood nearby for prisoners who had escaped,” he went on. “There were more than 100 prisoners and soon there were panic-filled cries as they were herded into the chamber and the door was shut. Then a sergeant with a gasmask went to a hole in the wall and from a tin shook Zyklon B gas pellets inside.”

“In that moment the cries of the people inside rose to a crescendo, a choir of madness. These cries I have ringing in my ears to this day,” Groening said.

“I again made an application for a transfer and at the end of October 1944 I was shipped to the Belgian Ardennes where I served with a fighting unit until capture. But you can imagine that down the years I have heard the cries of the dead in my dreams and in every waking moment. I will never be free of them,” he said. “I have never been back there because of my shame. This guilt will never leave me. I can only plead for forgiveness and pray for atonement.”

He, too, is in the eye of prosecutors who believe him to be worthy of an indictment of guilty of complicity to mass murder, the Daily Mail said.

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