Johann Rehbogen was not even 21-years-old when he served as a guard at a Nazi concentration camp. Now, more than 70 years later, he is being held accountable for his actions.
A former Nazi SS guard at a concentration camp during the Holocaust is now on trial for his alleged role in hundreds of murders that happened on his watch.
94-year-old Johann Rehbogen went on trial Nov. 6 for hundreds of counts of accessory to murder at Stutthof concentration camp where he was a guard from June 1942 to September 1944.
Rehbogen does not deny that he worked at the camp during World War II but claims that he wasn’t aware of the mass killings that were being committed there and that he didn’t participate in the atrocities. The prosecutor of the case, Andreas Brendel, does not buy Rehbogen’s story.
“Anyone who heard the screams from outside the gas chamber would have known that people were fighting for their lives,” Brendel reported.
Over 65,000 people died at the Stutthof camp before it was liberated by the Soviets in May 1945. While there is no evidence directly linking Rehbogen to a particular crime, the prosecutors argue that because he was a guard while the atrocities were taking place he is then complicit with at least a few hundred of those 65,000 murders.
Brendel read off the atrocities of which Rehbogen was accused of, which included heartless and violent tactics to murder Stutthof prisoners. Prisoners were killed using a variety of methods including gasoline or a phenol injection directly into the heart, as well as being forced to stand naked outside in the winter until they died of exposure.
Over a dozen survivors of the camp and their relatives joined Rehbogen’s trial as co-plaintiffs and agreed to share some of their stories about their experiences at the camp. One survivor, Judy Meisel, had her attorney read a statement she prepared in which she recounted the horrors she faced while forced into a ghetto and later sent to Stutthof at the age of 12.
“But I was not prepared for what came next,” Meisel said. “Next came Stutthof and I experienced the unimaginable, the hell organized and executed by the SS.”
“Stutthof was organized mass murder through the SS, made possible through the help of the guards,” she added.
Rehbogen is being tried in juvenile court because he was under the age of 21 when he served as a guard at the camp. However, because of the 94-year-old’s advanced age, the trial is forced to accommodate him.
This means that the proceedings cannot last more than two hours a day and on no more than two non-consecutive days a week.
Additionally, the prosecution and those dedicated to holding Nazis accountable for their horrendous crimes want to make it clear that just because more than 70 years have passed since the killings took place doesn’t mean that the case is any less important:
“The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of Holocaust perpetrators and old age should not afford protection to those who committed such heinous crimes,” said the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s head Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff.
This is not the first instance of an ex-camp guard being tried as an accessory to murder without evidence tying them to a specific crime. In 2011, the same legal reasoning was successfully used to find former guard John Demjanjuk guilty of similar charges.
The BBC reports that Rehbogen faces up to 15 years in prison if he is convicted but the 94-year-old, wheelchair-bound man is unlikely to actually serve any prison time because of his age.
Though many of the people responsible for the horrible crimes committed during World War II and the Holocaust are already gone, many remain committed to serving whatever form of justice they can to those who are left.
Next, take a look at how the Dachau concentration camp guards got their comeuppance. Then, read about how ICE deported Jakiw Palij, the 95-year-old former Nazi death camp guard who killed 6,000 Jews in one day.