BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court ruled on Friday that a 94-year-old man was unfit to stand trial on charges of being an accessory to murder during his time as an alleged former guard at Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz death camp.
Judges at Ellwangen court in southwest Germany said the accused, named by the Simon Wiesenthal Nazi-hunting group as Hans Lipschis, suffered from worsening dementia and would be unable to follow what would have amounted to a long trial.
Lipschis was arrested in May last year as part of a renewed campaign to bring lower-level Nazi collaborators to justice before they die. He was number four on the Simon Wiesenthal Centre list of most wanted Nazi criminals and was charged with being an accessory to 10,510 counts of murder.
“The court has refused to open the trial. The chamber is of the opinion that the 94-year-old is incapable of standing trial. It bases this judgment on its own personal impression and the opinion of a psychiatrist,” a court statement said.
Prosecutors said the accused had worked as a guard at Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland from 1941 to 1943, a period in which 12 prisoner convoys arrived at the extermination camp.
More than 10,000 of those prisoners were determined unfit for work and sent to the gas chamber immediately upon arrival.
Lipschis’s arrest was made possible by the 2011 conviction in Munich of Ivan Demjanjuk, who was found to have been an accessory to the murder of almost 28,000 Jews in Sobibor by virtue of having served as a guard at that death camp.
Demjanjuk, now dead, was the first ex-Nazi convicted in Germany without evidence of a specific crime or a specific victim.
Lipschis told the German newspaper Die Welt last year that he had been a cook at Auschwitz and had later left the camp to fight on the Eastern Front, although he could not remember which unit he had been in.
Prosecutors said the accused had lived in the United States for 26 years after World War Two but had had his U.S. citizenship revoked after his involvement with the Nazis came to light. He moved back to Germany in 1982.
German officials are trying to track down other low-level collaborators in a “last chance” hunt for ageing perpetrators of the Holocaust, in which some 6 million Jews were murdered.
Some 1.5 million people perished at Auschwitz, mostly Jews but also Roma, Poles and others, between 1940 and 1945.
Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Mark Heinrich