Germany Drops What Could Be Its Last High-profile Nazi Trial

Case against former Auschwitz medic has been discontinued as the 96-year-old Nazi is suffering from dementia

The undated photo provided by the Archive of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau shows SS Oberscharfuehrer Hubert Zafke. Zafke, now 95, is scheduled to go on trial at the end of February 2016.
The undated photo provided by the Archive of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau shows SS Oberscharfuehrer Hubert Zafke. Zafke, now 95, is scheduled to go on trial at the end of February 2016. AP

In what could be the end of high-profile Nazi trials, a German court officially dropped its case against a 96-year-old former Auschwitz medic because he has dementia.

The decision on Tuesday came after Hubert Zafke was found unfit to stand trial for his role in the murder of more than 3,600 people at the Nazi death camp. German prosecutors submitted a motion last month to the Neubrandenburg state court asking it to dismiss the case.

The conviction of John Demjanjuk in 2011 had launched several high-profile trials of Nazi camp guards, including Oskar Groening in 2015 and Reinhold Hanning in 2016, according to AFP

Former Auschwitz medic Hubert Zafke arrives in a wheelchair ahead of his trial in Neubrandenburg, Germany, September 12, 2016.
Bernd Wuestneck, DPA

Zafke was charged with being an accomplice to the murders of 3,681 people at the death camp. Prosecutors say the medic’s unit in which he served placed the Zyklon-B pesticide crystals into the gas chambers at Auschwitz, where up to 6,000 Jews were killed per day, and was “supportive of the running of this extermination camp,” according to Deutsche Welle.

Zafke, who uses a wheelchair, was diagnosed with dementia in October 2015, which led to doubts about his ability to stand trial.

His trial had failed to begin as planned in February 2016 after a doctor ruled he was unfit to be transported to Neubrandenburg state court, and the next month Zafke was ruled unfit for trial. Subsequent medical examinations this year by at least two independent physicians backed that assessment.

Zafke does not deny he served at Auschwitz, but he has said he did not see or participate in any of the murders. His attorney says he knew people were being murdered at Auschwitz but never took part in the killings.

Reportedly he was on duty when the teenage diarist Anne Frank arrived at the death camp on Sept. 5, 1944. She was transferred later to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she died of typhoid.