Hans Lipschis, 94, a former member of the Waffen-SS and alleged guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp, has been found unfit to stand trial. Lipschis was charged as an accessory to the murders of thousands of people.
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The state court of Ellwangen in southwestern Germany ordered Lipschis released on Friday, noting he was suffering from the onset of dementia and was unlikely to be able to follow a “trial of this magnitude, complexity and length.”
The judges based their ruling on two meetings with Lipschis and on a medical opinion. Since May, Lipschis had been held at a prison hospital near Stuttgart.
In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Lipschis admitted he’d been at Auschwitz, but claimed to have been a cook, saying he had only heard about the atrocities taking place there and had never been involved in any of them.
Lipschis, a native of Lithuania, settled in Germany after the war and emigrated to the United States in 1956. He was deported to Germany in 1982 after U.S. authorities discovered he had lied about his Nazi past.
The decision to release Lipschis and halt the legal proceedings against him is a harsh blow to the effort by the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes to try dozens of elderly Germans who are suspected of being Auschwitz guards.
The legal action against Lipschis and the others began after a precedent was set with the trial of John Demjanjuk in Germany in 2011. Demjanjuk was convicted of being an accomplice to genocide based solely on the fact that he was a guard at a death camp, without any evidence presented that he had actually been involved in any murders. Demjanjuk died as he was waiting for his appeal to be heard and before serving his sentence, but the precedent enabled German prosecutors to reopen dozens of cases against death camp guards and put them on trial.
Lipschis was arrested earlier this year, a few months after he was listed at the top of a list of most wanted Nazis issued by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, headed by Nazi hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff. The prosecution claimed he was an accomplice to genocide because when he was a guard at the camp, between 1941-1943, thousands of people were killed. The number of people whose murder he was accused of abetting was 10,500.