Atrosity upon Atrosity

Bill Neinast


Johann Rehbogen is the latest to go on trial.  He is 94 years old , but is being tried in juvenile court.

This is the current phase of what might be called the vendetta started by the German government in 2011.  That is when former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk became the first person convicted in Germany solely for serving as a death camp guard.  There was no evidence that he was involved in a specific killing. 

Demjanjuk, who always denied serving at the Sobibor camp, died before his appeal could be heard.

In 2015, however, the conviction of Oskar Groening, a guard at Auschwitz, the most infamous of the Holocaust death camps, was upheld when the Federal Court of Justice rejected his appeal.  The court noted that his responsibilities had included keeping watch on the inmates and preventing resistance or attempts to flee by force.

Groening was also tried in juvenile court because he, too, was under age 20 while guarding the camp.  His job was to inventory prisoners’ belongings and to separate money and valuables for forwarding to Berlin.

In the current, and possibly the last, trial, Rehbogen was a guard at the Nazis' Stutthof concentration camp in Danzig, which is now the Polish city of Gdansk.  Jews were not the only prisoners there.  Poles, Russians, homosexuals, and others were also confined there.

Although there were murders, starvation, and other deprivations, they were not on the order of Auschwitz, Dachau, and others.

Rehbogen, Demjanjuk, and the other guards were charged with accessory to murder.

Of the approximately 55,000 guards who served in Nazi concentration camps, about 3,700 were women.  Less than a dozen of the males have been tried, but I can find no indication of females being charged.

Notwithstanding the inexcusable horrors of the Holocaust,  charging camp guards, or watchmen as they were called, as accessories to the crimes of their superiors is hard to understand.  

The accused were juveniles under German law and were in the army of a dictator who executed dissenters at the drop of a hat.  Even Field Marshal Rommel was required to take his own life on the orders of Hitler.

Under that regime, what was a soldier expected to do when he was ordered to assume guard duty?  Disobedience is a serious offense even in the U.S. military.  In the Nazi’s army, it probably was a capital offense.

So what purpose is served by trying men in the last years of their lives for actions they were forced to take 75 years ago?  Will they be rehabilitated?  Will the convictions deter young  military men and women from following orders they might question on moral grounds?

The Nuremberg trials and others like them around the world after WWII established the principle that “I was just following orders” is no defense to a charge of war crimes or atrocities.

That is a good rule or principle when applied to well educated, experienced individuals like senior officers and officials.  But how does it work with juveniles who may have had a hard time graduating high school?  

It is reasonable to assume that 99+% of the concentration camp guards fell into that latter category.  And now 75 years later, the German government is telling them, “Shame on you!  You should have known and behaved better.”

I can find no record, however, where the German courts backed up their shaking fingers with advice on what those young men could have done, or should have done, to prevent even a single killing or other atrocity.

So here’s the perspective.

This is not a defense of the indefensible—the Holocaust.  Most of those responsible for those atrocities were identified, tried, and executed at Nuremberg or, like Eichman, in Israel.  

The trial and conviction of low ranking enlisted personnel for merely following orders to perform administrative duties, however, is adding atrocities to atrocities. 



HOME page>                  NEW STUFF page> 
          WRITING CONTENT page>       GUEST ARTISTS page>Home_1.htmlNew_Stuff.htmlEssays.htmlGuest_Artists.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0shapeimage_1_link_1shapeimage_1_link_2shapeimage_1_link_3