Why Germany wants to try a 91-year-old former radio operator

The time to try Nazi war criminals is running short, as many are dying or ill from old age.

Alik Keplicz/AP
Holocaust survivors walk outside the gate of the of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland in January. Some 300 Holocaust survivors traveled to Auschwitz for the 70th anniversary of the death camp's liberation by the Soviet Red Army in 1945, down from 1,500 who attended the event 10 years ago.

A 91-year-old woman was charged Monday for her alleged involvement in the murder of at least 260,000 Jews at the Auschwitz concentration camp complex in Poland. She worked there as a radio operator about 70 years ago.

If it goes to trial, her case might be the last one to do so, reports The Guardian, since many of those involved with killing 1.1 million Jews at Auschwitz are in their 90s and thought to be too frail to stand trial.

The woman, who has not been identified due to Germany’s privacy laws, allegedly belonged to an all-female unit that assisted the Nazi SS in concentration camps, reports The Guardian, and is accused in connection with events between April and July 1944.

Because she was younger than 21 at the time, she would be tried in a court for minors, according to The Guardian.

If she is tried and found guilty, she’ll be the 51st to be convicted, out of 6,500 SS guards who served at Auschwitz.

For decades, German prosecutors maintained that evidence had to tie those accused of war crimes directly to atrocities.

Until the 2011 conviction of a former Ukranian camp guard who was living in the United States, Germany had not charged anyone with complicity in the Holocaust since the 1960s.

The former guard, John Demjanjuk, died in 2012, a year after he was sentenced to five years in prison for his involvement in the killing of tens of thousands of Jews at Sobibór camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

His case opened the doors for other prosecutions, like the one of 94-year-old Oskar Gröning, a former SS guard convicted in July of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder.

Gröning was sentenced to four years in prison, though he may not actually have to serve the time, given his age and the length of the verdict appeal process, his lawyer Hans Holterman told The Christian Science Monitor in July.

Thomas Walther, lawyer for the 51 Auschwitz survivors at Gröning's trial, told the Monitor in July that the duration of the former guard's sentence was not at issue for the survivors.

They “are just happy that this trial has been carried through to the end and that there was a verdict,” Walther said.

According to 2013 data from Operation: Last Chance, an organization that pays money for information leading to the arrest of Nazi war criminals, there were 1,005 active investigations of alleged war criminals in Poland and Germany.

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