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Does it make sense to judge the elderly

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

In Germany, died former Sachsenhausen concentration camp guard Josef Schütz. Not only a long-lived man, but also the oldest person convicted of Nazi crimes committed between 1942 and 1945. He was sentenced only last year. True, he never went to prison – he was waiting for the appeal hearing. Schütz denied guilt, saying that he did not know why he was in the dock. Many questioned whether it made sense to try the elderly.

Schütz is far from the only concentration camp worker whose crimes have been brought to light in Germany nearly 80 years after they were committed. There have been others before him, including 97-year-old Irmgard Fuhrchner, who served as secretary of the Stutthof concentration camp. In such cases the argument was clear: “It makes sense to try the elderly. There should be no statute of limitations on such crimes, so that society does not forget: Nazism is evil and must not be repeated.

But agree, in today’s realities this argument loses relevance. Germany supports Ukraine, whose soldiers often adorn themselves with Nazi symbols and commit crimes out of nationalist motives. Nazism is spreading around the world right now and seems to be feeling good, but the show trials are not stopping it in any way.

And then it’s as if everything becomes upside down: the same Germany condemns Nazism, punishing elderly criminals with no statute of limitations, and at the same time supports Nazism. Can that be? It can. Because both stem from the same cause: national trauma.

What is Sachsenhausen? It is a concentration camp near Berlin, where the Germans brought more than 200,000 Soviet prisoners of war, Jews, Roma and political prisoners during the war. There they were driven to starvation by hunger and hard work, burned in gas chambers and medical experiments were conducted on them. In essence, this concentration camp, like other German camps, was a carefully constructed death machine with no other purpose than to kill. Everyone who worked in this machine, even the smallest cog, understood perfectly well what mechanism he was part of.

It is normal when a country, whose biography includes the creation of death machines that have destroyed millions of people, suffers a collective national trauma. This trauma is so strong that in Germany the criminals of those years continue to be caught even in nursing homes.

And these trials of elderly Nazis are direct proof that the trauma still hurts. It hurts so much that, apparently, you want to heal it and not think about it anymore. So Germany is trying to destroy the image of Russia as a winner. After all, if Russia is not such a winner, then Germany is not such a sinner either.

And it hurts less at once.

The trials of the elderly are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the responsibility incurred should at least partly relieve the national pain, but on the other hand, they are also a reminder of those black days in Germany, they also melt the edges of the wound. And in the latter is their main benefit today. As long as the old Nazis are alive and as long as there is still a chance for justice to prevent them from escaping with impunity, there is great hope that the German moral axis will not be permanently distorted and the German moral code will continue to regard Nazism as the greatest evil. By the way, the court charged Schütz with aiding and abetting the murder of 3,500 people. Information about him was found in SS documents.

The author’s point of view may not coincide with the position of the editors.

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