Following the Second World War, many Nazis fled to Latin America or were recruited by foreign powers. Throughout the post-war decades, the media would occasionally explode with a captivating and exciting story of Israeli special forces tracking down and killing or abducting Nazis that had managed to evade capture. The recent years these stories have subsided quite a bit. After all, the Second World War ended over 75 years ago, and the war criminals that served the regime have mostly passed away. Only the youngest generation of the Nazis are still alive, and even they are in their 90s, close to death. Nevertheless, recently, in July this year, there was a verdict about one of the oldest Nazis ever to stand trial. It is an exceptional trial because if it isn’t the last, it certainly is one of the last.
Now the entire case against this man is both very curious and very recent. The last man that stood trial for Nazi war crimes was the former SS concentration camp guard, 93-year-old Bruno Dey. In October 2019 he was charged with complicity to the murder of 5232 people in concentration camp Stutthof, closeby the Polish city Gdansk.
Dey had been a camp guard since summer 1944. He was 17-years-old and due to the shortage of able-bodied men, he was placed in the camp as a guard. He had a heart-deficiency which is why he wasn’t drafted as a soldier on the eastern front, like so many boys his age were. The camp, Stutthoff, was a place of nightmares. A typhoid epidemic raged through the camp in 1942 and 1944 and the prisoners that were too weak to work were sent off to the gas chambers. Those that weren’t killed suffered incredible hardship as forced labourers. Until the end of the war tens-of-thousands of Jews and Poles ended up in the camp and over 60.000 were killed.
Survivors were allowed to make statements during the case. They talked about daily life in the camp and the crimes committed by the SS. They said they were “beaten, spit on, had to spend hours in scorching heat performing hard labour without any shade or water, there were random executions and during the last year of the war, a typhoid epidemic killed off many inmates.” In his verdict, the Judge asked Dey how he “could get used to the horror of the camp?”
Because of Dey standing guard on the watchtowers, the judge considered him complicit to the murder of at least 5232 inmates. What’s so curious is that because Dey was 17 during his service, as a 93-year-old, a juvenile judge tried him. During his confession, Dey confirmed he saw the way inmates were treated. He heard the screaming from the gas chambers and saw the way bodies were burned. According to him, he had no other option than to stay in the camp, after all, the punishment for desertion was certain death.
Last July, Dey was sentenced to two years of probation by the juvenile judge. The verdict took into account Dey’s young age when he was a guard and his current age and health conditions. It might not seem like a satisfying sentence, but the 35 survivors and five relatives of people that were involved in the case simply wanted him to be sentenced. The judicial system had to recognise Dey was guilty of committing these crimes, and that happened. Some survivors even went as far as to publicly acknowledge they didn’t want Dey to be sent to prison after he was found guilty, and one of them made the case to forgive Dey’s crimes.
In his closing statement, Dey offered his apologies to the survivors and relatives of those killed. He stated that these crimes ‘must never be repeated’. A bit of a turnaround because when the case started, he said he didn’t understand why, after 74 years, he still had to stand trial for what happened back then. Dey’s apology is very rare though – it barely happens that former Nazis apologise for their crimes. Take Adolf Eichmann, who said he did not feel guilty about his instrumental role in organising the holocaust.
The trial of Bruno Dey may very well be the last one since most former Nazis still alive are approaching 100 years of age. Nevertheless, several instances are continuing the hunt for former Nazis. Thomas Will, a public prosecutor in Ludwigsburg, stands at the head of the Zentrale Stelle zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen, commonly called the Nazi Hunters. They have been operating for over 60 years. The organisation was created in 1958 to prosecute Nazis that were acquitted during earlier trials. As of today, August 2020, they are preparing 14 cases against former Nazis. Considering these men are all approaching 100 years of age, it isn’t likely they will actually end up standing trial.
There are many other interesting stories and cases of Nazi war criminals that fled after the Second World War and were hunted down by, for example, the Israeli Mossad. If there’s a specific case you’d like to know more about, make sure you let me know in the comments!
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