BERLIN — The world’s third most wanted Nazi suspect was involved in the entire process of killing Jews at the Belzec death camp: from taking victims from trains to pushing them into gas chambers to throwing corpses into mass graves, a German court said Thursday.
Samuel Kunz, an 88-year-old who has lived undisturbed for decades, was indicted last week on charges of involvement in the killing of 430,000 Jews — after a career as an employee in a government ministry and obscurity in a quiet village just outside the former West German capital of Bonn.
On Thursday the court in Bonn that indicted him revealed more details of the charges against him, describing in gruesome detail some of the crimes the suspected former death camp guard allegedly committed in occupied Poland from January 1942 to July 1943.
“The accused was deployed in all areas of the camp,” Bonn court spokesman Matthias Nordmeyer told The Associated Press.
Kunz’s case only came to the attention recently of prosecutors and the world’s major Nazi-hunting organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, when prosecutors were poring through World War II-era documents as they built their case against retired autoworker John Demjanjuk, now being tried in a high-profile case in Munich.
The discovery prompted the Wiesenthal centre to list Kunz in April as the world’s No. 3 most wanted Nazi due to the fact that he was allegedly involved personally in the killings and to the “enormous scope” of the killings, said the centre’s chief Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff.
The court also announced Thursday that Kunz has been charged in a German youth court because he was a minor at the time — meaning he could be brought to trial as an adolescent and face a more lenient sentence.
Kunz was 20 years old when he allegedly started working as a guard at Belzec in January 1942. According to German law, people between 18 and 21 can be brought to trial either as minors or adults.
“It will be up to the judge to decide whether he will be sentenced as an adolescent or an adult,” Nordmeyer said.
In its statement, the court described the deadly routine at Belzec, claiming that Kunz supposedly participated as a camp guard in all areas of the Nazis’ organized mass murder of Poland’s Jewry.
After the victims arrived by train at the death camp, they were told that before they could start working they had to be deloused and take a shower, the statement said, describing the terrifying killing process that by now is well known.
“Threatening them with pistols, whips and wooden clubs, the victims were told to hurry up. … They had to undress … the women had their hair cut off, and then first the men, then women and children were pushed into the gas chambers,” the statement said.
After the victims were killed, “the corpses were searched for gold and valuables and then thrown into prepared graves.”
In addition to being charged with participating in the execution of the Holocaust, Kunz is also accused of “personal excesses” in the alleged shooting of 10 Jews.
“In July 1943, the defendant is accused of having shot two persons who had escaped from a train going to the death camp and had been captured by guards,” the statement said.
Between May and June 1943, he reportedly killed eight others who had been wounded but not killed by another guard at Belzec.
“The defendant then took the weapon from the other guard to shoot the wounded victims to death,” according to the statement.
Kunz had long been ignored by the German justice system, with authorities in the past showing little interest in going after relatively low-ranking camp guards. But in the past 10 years, a younger generation of German prosecutors has emerged that wants to bring all surviving Nazi suspects to justice.
While Kunz ranked fairly low in the Nazi hierarchy, he is among the top most wanted due to the large number of Jews he is accused of having a role in killing — which the prosecutor’s office in Dortmund puts at 430,000 — and the fact that he was personally involved, Zuroff said.
The highest-profile guard on trial now is Demjanjuk, the 90-year-old retired autoworker being tried as an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland. He denies he was ever a camp guard.
Authorities stumbled over Kunz’s case when they studied old documents from German postwar trials about the SS training camp Trawniki.
That discovery made the Wiesenthal centre aware of his case and prompted it to include him on their wanted list in April, Zuroff said.
Prosecutors allege that both Kunz and the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, who was deported to Germany from the U.S. last year, trained as guards at the Trawniki SS camp.
Associated Press Writer Vanessa Gera in Berlin contributed to this report.