Amelie Reichmuth’s thoughts about the trial against the former SS-guard at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
From October 2021 to June 2022, the trial of a 100-year-old man took place in Neuruppin, Germany. The man, whose identity was not revealed due to German privacy laws, was charged with “knowingly and willingly” assisting in the of murder of 3,518 people as a former SS guard at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In June 2022, he was sentenced to five years in prison, becoming the oldest person so far to be charged with being complicit with the war crimes of the Holocaust.
As a descendant of a former Sachsenhausen concentration camp prisoner, it goes without saying that I’ve followed this trial with great interest. Besides, I would have loved to attend the hearings, not only as a relative to a survivor, but also as a journalist, and just a citizen.
Unfortunately, the court had not reserved specific seats for us descendants, so the only option to attend the hearings for me would have been to either get an official accreditation as a journalist or show up early in the morning like anyone else to maybe get a spot, since seats were distributed on a first come first served basis. Since none of these options was realistic for me at the time, I tried to follow the trial from home.
I have to say that it was quite the challenge, because the coverage was very old school: The court had been placed in a sport hall, there was no internet, and reporters were not allowed to use their electronic devices to share information live. Instead, they could take notes and share their articles afterwards, while the hearings have been recorded and should be made available to historians and the public later in the future.
So, it has been a new way to consume news and media for me, but the good part was that it gave me a lot of time to reflect upon this trial and its significance – Here are some thoughts:
First of all, I think that the trial should have taken place before. That being said, I believe it’s better late than never, because it’s never too late to do the right thing. More importantly, it matters because this trial was probably the last of its kind; even the fact that this 100-year-old man was forced to show up is a success in and of itself.
Second of all, I did feel emotionally involved in all this, more than I had imagined to be honest, because I felt that the victims and their suffering were officially being recognised. It has also been empowering to see that the trial forced this man to confront his own past, while the victims and their relatives have had to bear the trauma for so long.
Thirdly, Germany got an opportunity to look itself in the mirror. In reality, this trial was not only the trial of a single man, but the trial of an entire society that made it possible in the first place to persecute, jail and murder innocent people. In a historical perspective, it was also the trial of a system that left the perpetrators mostly unpunished after the war.
More importantly, during the whole trial, I thought a lot about all the innocent people in the world we’ve abandoned since 1945, not living up to the promise of “Never again!”. To those people I would like to say: Your time will come and the world will finally listen. For there can only be peace where there’s justice.
When the trial was finally over and the court officially sentenced this man, the only feeling I had in the moment itself, and still have now, was relief, because this story was now a closed chapter. It felt like everything was beginning again, that we were finally free to close this chapter of our history and were getting a chance to create new ways of sharing memory, always and forever.
For me as a descendant, it also meant moving on with my life and breaking the cycle of trauma. In fact, this trial wasn’t about revenge, but rather about healing, both at an individual & collective level.
Once again, I had a special thought for all the victims, especially my Grand-Dad. To him and to those people I would like to say: You were seen, and your sacrifice will not be forgotten, because this trial will go into history.
With this trial, we ultimately chose decency over barbarism: We confronted a human-being with his actions and gave him a fair chance to explain/defend himself. This is what differentiates the rule of law in a democracy from dictatorship.
That being said, even if this verdict in and of itself was an important and long overdue symbol, fighting fascism in order to create a society where we can live with each other, for each other, is a life-long pledge. So, to conclude, I would like to dedicate this verdict to the Ukrainian people, hoping that despite the horrors they’re put through, they never question their human dignity.
Long is the road, but in the end peace and justice will prevail.