A 100-year-old concentration camp guard refused to make a statement as he became the oldest man to go on trial for Nazi-era crimes today.
The centenarian, identified only as Josef S, also hid his face from cameras as he appeared in court in Germany charged with complicity in 3,518 murders at the Sachsenhausen death camp between 1942 and 1954.
Charges against Josef, who was an SS paramilitary and a camp watchman, include aiding and abetting the 'execution by firing squad of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942' and the murder of prisoners 'using the poisonous gas Zyklon B'.
Josef's refusal to speak is significant because trials of former guards provide a chance to amass new evidence about what happened at Nazi death camps and enter in into historical record.
Other guards - including 'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz' Oskar Groening - have spoken about their activities at the camps during their trials.
The bespectacled man answered the judge with a clear voice when asked about his name, age and home address.
A widower since 1986, he was visibly proud when he replied that he will 'celebrate my 101st birthday, on November 16.'
The executive vice president of the Auschwitz Committee expressed disappointment at the lawyer's announcement that the suspect would not comment on the allegations.
'I found him surprisingly robust and present. He would have the strength to make an apology and he would also have the strength to remember,' Christoph Heubner told
reporters outside the
'Obviously, however, he does not want to muster the strength to remember, and for the survivors of the camps and for the relatives of the murdered who have come here to hear some truth spoken, this means once again a rejection, a disparagement and a confrontation with the continued silence of the SS.'
Opening the case, prosecutor Cyrill Klement told the court: 'The defendant knowingly and willingly aided and abetted this at least by conscientiously performing guard duty, which was seamlessly integrated into the killing system.'
A survivor of Sachsenhausen, 100-year-old Leon Schwarzbaum, attended the trial as a visitor.
'This is the last trial for my friends, acquaintances and my loved ones, who were murdered, in which the last guilty person can still be sentenced - hopefully' Schwarzbaum, who also survived the Auschwitz death camp and Buchenwald concentration camp, told dpa.
Josef's trial is being held by the Neuruppin state court - close to where the camp was located - but has been moved from the courthouse to a converted sports hall in the town of Brandenburg.
Hearings will last just a few hours each day due to Josef's advanced age. The case is expected to continue until January.
He is just the latest elderly member of the Nazi genocide machine to be put on trial for crimes committed during the Second World War.
The case comes a week after a 96-year-old German woman, who was a secretary in a Nazi death camp, dramatically fled before the start of her trial but was caught several hours later.
She too has been charged with complicity in murder. Her trial resumes October 19.
Prosecutors have been going after camp administrative staff in recent years, relying on a 2011 ruling that meant former Nazis can be held responsible for deaths in camps where they worked even if it cannot be proved they personally killed anyone.
Despite his advanced age, a medical assessment in August found that Josef S. was fit to stand trial. The proceedings are expected to last until early January.
'He is not accused of having shot anyone in particular but of having contributed to these acts through his work as a guard and of having been aware such killings were happening at the camp,' a court spokeswoman said.
MAY BE A BOX
• The man, identified only as Josef S, is accused of complicity in 3,518 murders
• , today
• Josef S is now the oldest person ever put on trial for Nazi-era crimes
• He served as a guard at the Sachsenhausen death camp from 1942 until 1945