Hamburg, Germany – A 93-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard was handed a suspended sentence of two years on Thursday for complicity in World War II atrocities, in what could be one of the last such cases of surviving SS guards.
Bruno Dey was convicted for his role in the murder of 5,232 people when he was a teenaged SS tower guard at the Stutthof camp near what was then Danzig, now Gdansk, in Poland.
Judge Anne Meier-Goering said Dey had helped to "dehumanize human beings and turn them into numbers".
"You still see yourself as a mere observer, when in fact you were an accomplice to this man-made hell," she told him as she handed down the sentence, also for one case of attempted murder.
In his last statements to the court, Dey had apologized to victims but stressed that he had been forced into his role at the camp.
"Today I would like to apologize to those who went through the hell of this madness, as well as to their relatives. Something like this must never happen again," he said from the dock.
He said he was "shaken" by witness accounts from Stutthof, where tens of thousands of people died from illness, malnutrition and murder by gas chamber and surprise execution.
But he added that he became aware of the "extent of the atrocities" only upon hearing witness testimonies and reports.
Chief prosecutor Lars Mahnke had demanded a three-year prison sentence for Dey, saying he knew about the "state-organized mass murder" happening around him and should have climbed down from the tower and handed in his weapon.
Dey's defense lawyer Stefan Waterkamp had sought an acquittal or a suspended sentence.
Dey was given a juvenile sentence because he was 17 or 18 years old when he served at the camp between April 1944 and April 1945.
Waterkamp, his lawyer, had argued that such a young man could hardly have been expected to break ranks, and that the teenaged Dey "saw no escape".
He added that as a tower guard, Dey would not have known the extent of the "sadism" and "inhumane conditions" of the camp.
Dey acknowledged last year that he had been aware of the camp's gas chambers and admitted seeing "emaciated figures, people who had suffered", but insisted he was not guilty even if he expressed regret over the atrocities.
One Stutthof survivor dismissed Dey's apology.
"I'm speechless. I don't want his apology, I don't need it," Marek Dunin-Wasowicz, a 93-year-old camp survivor, told AFP via telephone from his home in Warsaw.
The Nazis set up the Stutthof camp in 1939, initially using it to detain Polish political prisoners.
But it ended up holding 110,000 detainees, including many Jews.
Some 65,000 people perished in the camp, around 4,000 of them murdered in the gas chambers.
Dey, who now lives in Hamburg, became a baker after the war.
Married with two daughters, he supplemented his income by working as a truck driver, before later taking a job in building maintenance.
He came into prosecutors' sights after a landmark 2011 ruling against former Sobibor camp guard John Demjanjuk on the basis that he was part of the Nazi killing machine.
Since then, Germany has been racing to use that legal precedent against surviving SS personnel rather than trying to find evidence that they directly committed murders or atrocities.
Courts have since convicted Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at the same camp, for complicity in mass murder.
Both men were found guilty at the age of 94 but died before they could be imprisoned.