OPEN LETTER regarding the trial against the former SS-member Hubert Zafke (Germany)

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Last year, the trial against a former SS member who served in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Camp was opened in Neubrandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. It would be one of the last Auschwitz trials. But instead of raising awareness and achieving a measure of belated justice, the trial has so far drawn attention to itself through sensational news reports: The presiding judge in the case, Klaus Kabisch, is primarily concerned with the physical condition of the defendant. Relatives of murder victims were excluded as co-plaintiffs; Auschwitz survivors were excluded as witnesses. We are demanding that the trial be reopened immediately, focusing on the defendant’s responsibility and the events of history.

Dear judges and jury of the Jury Court at the Neubrandenburg District Court,

On 23 February 2015, the prosecutor's office in Schwerin filed suit against Hubert Zafke on charges of being an accomplice in at least 3,681 cases of murder. But more than two years later, there is still no judgment in sight. According to the charge, Zafke, as an SS paramedic, supported the collaborative murder of men, women and children from across Europe in Auschwitz-Birkenau, between 15 August and 14 September 1944. Anne Frank and her family were in one of at least 14 deportation trains that reached the extermination camp during his period of duty. After arrival, the prisoners went through a selection on the platform; children, the elderly and ill were murdered immediately in the gas chambers. Today, the trial of one of the last living former SS men who assisted in this process is in danger of failing. But similar trials in Lüneburg and Detmold have proven that it is in fact possible to reach a verdict within a few months, even taking into account the limited ability of the defendants to stand trial.

What did Hubert Zafke – who was also assigned to work in Dachau, Neuengamme, Sachsenhausen and Groß-Rosen – do, hear and see as a medical orderly and a member of the SS medical staff in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Camp? What does he know about the so-called SS paramedics who administered fatal injections to sick prisoners and poured Zyklon B poison into the gas chambers? The trial in Neubrandenburg could provide some answers. But up to now the trial has focused not on the crimes but rather solely on the defendant’s infirmity. It may be hard to explain why a very old man should have to answer to a court for crimes committed decades ago. But the survivors of Auschwitz are also elderly and frail. It is to them, for whom justice has been so long denied, that we owe our compassion. Auschwitz was a murder factory. This fact could not have escaped Hubert Zafke, as soon as he saw the emaciated prisoners, the gas chambers and crematoria. He must have known that he was supporting mass murder through his acts in the camp. We adamantly reject as a denial of history his defense attorney’s claim that the crimes were comparable with those of 80 million other Germans in the Third Reich. The trial against Zafke is neither “embarrassing” nor would it be a “show trial” or “death sentence,” as his attorney claimed at the start of the proceedings. We are calling for a fair trial under due process of law, and we condemn all attempts to turn perpetrators into victims.

“Auschwitz was a place where one could not participate… without becoming an accomplice to the crime of murder.” The Federal Supreme Court confirmed this legal position – as represented by attorneys for the co-plaintiffs – in its decision of 20 September last year. Since there is no statute of limitations on murder – the Federal Republic of Germany confirmed this decades ago, so as not to leave National Socialist murders unpunished – a defendant’s age cannot be an absolute procedural impediment. Rather, the trials against Nazi perpetrators must be conducted with no holds barred. But the opposite is happening in Neubrandenburg. The trial is constantly being dragged out and neglected. The main negotiation was put off until February 2016 by arrangement of the Higher Regional Court, and took place over just a few days. The Neubrandenburg regional court showed no interest in the prosecution. Instead, the judges used an expert psychiatric report to question once again the accused's ability to stand trial. The trial did not get beyond the reading of charges. Neither has the defendant ever responded to the charges, nor has any evidence been presented. The co-plaintiffs and even the prosecutor's office filed several applications challenging you as judge of the Jury Court on grounds of bias. Since no decision was reached before the deadline, the negotiations must begin anew. No appointment was set. Investigations into the defendant’s ability to stand trial are ongoing.

We are outraged by your undignified treatment of the co-plaintiffs. This culminated in the attempt – repeatedly, and as the Higher Regional Court of Rostock noted, illegally – to exclude from the trial the Holocaust survivors Walter and William Plywaski, whose mother was murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Since the start of the proceedings, the rights of co-plaintiffs have been disregarded; information has been withheld from them; and their bias petitions against the court thrown out. Because the Judge’s Chamber refused to authorize a trip to Colorado (USA) for his lawyer, Walter Plywaski never had the opportunity to speak with him face to face. Judge Kabisch suggested that the now 88-year-old Holocaust survivor have a Skype conference call with his attorney. Attorneys and clients sometimes learn about court decisions from the press. For Walter Plywaski, the trial became an ordeal – and not only for him, as a party to the case. The judge’s partisan approach has impacted others as well: The International Auschwitz Committee spoke of a "nightmare for the survivors of Auschwitz" in September 2016 and wondered how such an arrogant court could be entrusted with such a sensitive case, battering the image of the judiciary in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for months on end. They hadn’t thought it possible that a German court, more than 70 years after the Holocaust, would confront them with such ignorance and rejectionism.

It is obviously not clear to you that international public opinion is getting the impression that you consider this trial to be so beyond the pale, for political or other reasons, that you are determined to prevent or sabotage it. You fail to recognize the explosive nature of their actions and thus perpetuate the decades-long practice of non-prosecution of Nazi perpetrators.

With this letter, we call on you to ensure that this case be promptly prosecuted, once and for all. We have not given up hope that there will be a verdict and that the victims and their family members will thereby receive a measure of justice.

Yours respectfully,

Roman Guski,
Context. Bausteine für historische und politische Bildung e.V.

Dr. Constanze Jaiser,
Agentur für Bildung – Geschichte, Politik und Medien e.V.

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First signatories to the open letter:

Katja Anders,
Educationalist, Berlin

Esther Bejarano,
Chairwoman of the Auschwitz-Komitee in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland e.V.

Alyn Beßmann,
Cultural scientist, Hamburg

Prof. Mira Reym Binford,
Professor Emerita of Communications, Adj. Prof. of Media/Holocaust Studies, Quinnipiac University (Hamden/USA)

Sandra Brenner,
Zeitwerk – Beratungsstelle für lokale Jugendgeschichtsarbeit im Landesjugendring Brandenburg e.V.

Prof. Grace Caporino,
Professor of Holocaust Literature, Purchase College (Purchase/USA)

Christiane Chodinski, Georg Chodinski, Ilse Jacob
on behalf of the regional association of the Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes – Bund der Antifaschistinnen und Antifaschisten (VVN-BdA) Hamburg

Batsheva Dagan,
Survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrück and Malchow (Holon/Israel)

Bernadette Dewald,
Chairwoman of the Österreichische Lagergemeinschaft Ravensbrück & FreundInnen (Vienna/Österreich)

Dr. Simone Erpel, Dr. Matthias Heyl, Charlotte Meiwes,
Executive board of the Dr. Hildegard Hansche Stiftung

Dr. Thomas Gabelin,
Member of the executive board of Child Survivors Deutschland e.V. – Überlebende Kinder der Shoah

Dr. Detlef Garbe,
Director of the memorial KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme

Marco Gutewort,
Vice chairman of the Förderverein Schloss und Gedenkstätte Lichtenburg e.V.

Christian Hartz, Elke Nolze, Christoph Speier, Aline Zieher,
Executive board of the Kurt und Herma Römer Stiftung

Brita Heinrichs,
Jugend für Dora e.V.

Margrit Hille,
Lesbenberatung Berlin e.V. / LesMigraS

Dr. Natalja Jeske,
Historian, Rostock

Thomas Käpernick,
Chairman of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Neuengamme e.V.

Prof. Dr. Pegelow Kaplan,
Director of the Center for Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies, Appalachian State University (North Carolina, USA)

Martin Klähn,
Head of pedagogics of Politische Memoriale e.V.

Beate Klarsfeld,
Fils et Filles des Déportés Juifs de France (Paris/France)

Dr. Ines Lasch,
Slavicist, Hamburg

Prof. Kevin Lewis,
Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, University of South Carolina (Columbia/USA)

Dr. phil. habil. Alf Lüdtke,
Honorary professor, University of Erfurt

Dr. Ulrike Marz,
Chairwoman of LOBBI e.V. – Landesweite Opferberatung, Beistand und Information für Betroffene rechter Gewalt in M-V

Birgit Marzinka, Ingolf Seidel,
Agentur für Bildung – Geschichte, Politik und Medien e.V.

Ulrike Maschner, Stefanie Oster,
Context. Bausteine für historische und politische Bildung e.V.

Dr. Henry Miller,
son of survivors, his father survived Auschwitz (Columbia/USA)

Minda Miller,
Chair of The Selden K. Smith Foundation for Holocaust Education (Columbia/USA)

Katja Müller,
Historian, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Andreas Nachama,
Historian and publicist, Berlin

Prof. Dr. Andrea Nachtigall,
Department of Social Work, University of Applied Sciences Jena

Helga Radau,
Chairwoman of the Förderverein Dokumentations- und Begegnungsstätte Barth e.V.

Dr. Jost Rebentisch,
Secretary of the Bundesverband Information und Beratung für NS-Verfolgte e.V.

Dr. Michael A. Riff,
Director of the Gross Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, Ramapo College (New Jersey/USA)

Lea Rosh,
Chairwoman of the Förderkreis Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas e.V.

Dr. Harry Schulz,
Historian, Neubrandenburg

Horst Selbiger,
Honorary chairman of Child Survivors Deutschland e.V. – Überlebende Kinder der Shoah

Brigitte Triems,
Chairwoman of the Demokratischer Frauenbund e.V.

Nadia Ufimtseva,
Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (Kiev/Ukraine)

Christian Utpatel,
Secretary of the Regionale Arbeitsstelle für Bildung, Integration und Demokratie (RAA) M-V

Lukas Welz,
Chairman of AMCHA Deutschland e.V. – Israelisches Zentrum für psychosoziale Hilfe für Überlebende des Holocaust

Prof. Dr. Michael Wildt,
Department of History, Humboldt University of Berlin

Dr. Bill Younglove,
California State University (Long Beach/USA)

Lisa Marie Zinßer,
Arbeitskreis kritischer Jurist*innen (AKJ) Greifswald

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Further supporters:

Emmie Arbel,
Survivor (Haifa/Israel)

Eva Arnold,
family members were murdered in the Shoah

Uwe Bader,
Director of the memorial Gedenkstätte KZ Osthofen

Carsten Blank,
two of his aunts were murdered in the Shoah, he is grandchild of Ernst Feder, who survived 

Sabrina Bobowski,
Internationale Bildungs- und Begegnungsstätte "Johannes Rau" (Minsk/Belarus)

Carina Boeglmueller,
famile members were murdered in the Shoah

Ivonne Bogers-Ottenbros,
daughter of Holocaust survivor Beppie Ottenbros-Bosboom (Haarlem/Netherlands)

Rachel Bremer,
family members survived the Holocaust, other relatives were murdered

Prof. Dr. Micha Brumlik,
Emeritus Professor of Educational Science at the Goethe University Frankfurt/Main and Senior Advisor at the Center for Jewish Studies Berlin-Brandenburg

Dr. Marc D. Buggeln,
Humboldt University of Berlin

Karin Buschkühl,
her grandfather survived Dachau

Konstanze Crilly,
family members were murdered in concentration camps

Hans Coppi,
Chairman of the Berliner Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes – Bund der Antifaschistinnen und Antifaschisten (VVN-BdA)

Uwe Dannhauer,
Chairman of the association Gedenkstätte KZ-Außenlager Schlieben-Berga e.V.

Yaniv Dagan,
grandson of Holocaust survivor Batsheva Dagan (Kfar Yona/Israel)

Sylvia Degen, Ronja Hesse, Heike Rode
on behalf of the Initiative für einen Gedenkort ehemaliges KZ Uckermark e.V.

Robert Dupuis,
son, grandson, great-grandson, grandnephew and great-grandnephew of survivors and victims of the Shoah

Monika Ellerbeck,
family members were murdered in concentration camps

Leeor Fink,
grandson of Yaakov Ze'ev Farkash, who survived Dachau

Dr. Peter Fischer,
Central Council of Jews in Germany's representative in the boards of various memorials

Judith Fischer-Deichmann,
family members were murdered during the Holocaust

Richard Freedman,
Director of South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation (Cape Town/South Africa)

Hans-Peter Freimark,
pastor, DDR-Geschichtsmuseum und Dokumentationszentrum Perleberg

Anne Friebel,
Gedenkstätte für Zwangsarbeit Leipzig

Karina Gitina,
grandchild of Petro Perel, who survived Dachau; great-granddaughter and great-grandniece of victims of the Shoah

Philippe Gottheimer,
his grandfather was murdered in Auschwitz

Diana Groó,
film director, grandchild of survivor grandparents (Budapest/Hungary)

Hans-Joachim Gutmann,
his grandmother and his uncle were murdered in Sobibor, his father was co-plaintiff in the trial of former Sobibór camp guard John Demjanjuk

Hans-Jürgen Hahn,
editor of the "Auschwitz Album" of Lili Meier

Konrad Hannemann,
son of Max Hannemann, who was murdered in Sachsenhausen

Barbara Hartje,
Chairwoman of the Freundeskreis KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme

Dr. Ingrid Heyser,
daughter of a Buchenwald survivor; VVN-BdA Sachsen

Andrew W. Hilkowitz,
Chairman of Child Survivors Deutschland e.V. – Überlebende Kinder der Shoah

Gábor Hirsch,
survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau (Esslingen, Switzerland)

Prof. Dr. Elemér von Inántsy-Pap,
Emeritus Professor of Developmental and Educational Psychology at the FH Köln

Raymond Ingber,
Holocaust survivor (Lontzen/Belgium)

Akim Jah,
Historian, Bad Arolsen

Lizzy Jöckel,
family members were murdered in Auschwitz

Petra Kaiser,
her grandfather was murdered in Auschwitz

Dr. Wolf Kaiser,
Former Head of the Education Department at the Memorial "Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz"

Petra Klein,
her mother survived Auschwitz

Romana Köhler-Auer,
her grandfathers lost their families in Auschwitz and other concentration camps

Daniel Krisch,
family members were murdered in Łódź, his grandfather survived Buchenwald und other concentration camps  

Gerda Lawrance-Niermeyer,
her grandmother and other relatives were murdered in Auschwitz

Rene Levy,
half-siblings were murdered in Auschwitz

Oksana Liebs,
her grandfather was imprisoned in Auschwitz und Neuengamme

Prof. Dr. Irmela von der Lühe,
Professor (ret.) for Modern German Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin and Senior Professor at the Center for Jewish Studies in Berlin-Brandenburg

Johanna Meyer,
her grandmother was murdered in Hadamar

Prof. Dr. Günter Morsch,
Historian, Oranienburg

Ayala Nagel,
Chairwoman of CHAVERIM – Freundschaft mit Israel e.V.

Ruben Neu,
his grandparents were murdered by the Nazis

Laureen Nussbaum,
Professor Emerita of Foreign Languages and Literature at Portland State University in Oregon, Holocaust survivor and childhood friend of Anne Frank (Seattle/USA)

Ulrike Oschwald,
Chairwoman of the Stiftung Begegnungsstätte für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur in Rostock / Max-Samuel-Haus

Elisabeth (Beppie) Ottenbros-Bosboom,
Survivor of Kamp Vught, Auschwitz and Ravensbrück (Haarlem/Netherlands)

Torsten Pakula,
family members were murdered in Auschwitz

Gisela Puschmann,
her aunt, Helga Ortlepp, was among the victims of the "euthanasia" killings at Hadamar

Thomas Richter,
his grandfather was imprisoned in Auschwitz

Michael Rose-Gille,
Spokesman of the VVN-BdA Niedersachsen

Anton Schaporew,
his grandfather survived Mittelbau-Dora

Dr. Florian Schmaltz,
Historian, Berlin

Ralf Schmidt,
his grandfather was murdered in Buchenwald

Stefan Schüler,
his grandfather was murdered in Cosel

Dr. Rainer Schulze,
City Council of Frankenthal (Pfalz)

Sabine Seewe,
Deutscher Koordinierungsrat der Gesellschaften für Christlich-Jüdische Zusammenarbeit

Michael Spiegl,
Chairman of the association GEDENKDIENST (Vienna/Austria)

Jan Steyer,
Spokesman of the VVN-BdA Göttingen

Kurt Joachim Stroth,
his father was imprisoned in Buchenwald

Friedrich Taussig,
son, nephew, grandchild and great-grandchild of victims of the Shoah

Anja Tuckermann,
Author, Berlin

Dr. Shungu M. Tundanonga-Dikunda,
Co-founder and member of the International Network of Genocide Scholars

Judit Varga Hoffmann
deported from Hungary in 1944, survivor of Auschwitz, Gleiwitz, Ravensbrück und Rechlin concentration camps (Budapest/Hungary)

Vivian Volk,
her grandparents were imprisoned in Auschwitz

Prof. Dr. Patrick Wagner,
Institute for History at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

Kathrin Wallrodt,
her grandfather was murdered in Buchenwald

Frank Wizorek,
his grandfather was murdered in Sachsenhausen

Wolfgang Wolter,
family members were murdered in Auschwitz

Hartwig Zillmer,
Member of the executive board of Deutsch-Polnische Gesellschaft Hamburg e.V.



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