Trial of SS medic who served at Auschwitz begins in Germany

BERLIN (AP) — The oft-delayed trial of a former SS medic who served at the Auschwitz death camp opened Monday in Germany, amid lingering questions about whether the 95-year-old is fit enough for the proceedings to continue.

The trial of Hubert Zafke, scheduled to start in February at the Neubrandenburg state court in northeastern Germany, had been postponed three times after presiding Judge Klaus Kabisch determined Zafke wasn't well enough to participate based on a doctor's assessment.

Among other things, the retired farmer suffered from stress and high blood pressure and had suicidal thoughts, the court was told.

Zafke was examined again Monday morning ahead of the court session, and Kabisch decided to proceed.

Zafke was pushed into court in a wheelchair, holding a wooden cane in his hand, and made no comment as the charges against him were read, the dpa news agency reported.

Prosecutors and attorneys representing Auschwitz victims and their families who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law, said they would still file motions accusing Kabisch of bias for his previous rulings on Zafke's health.

However, Kabisch put off hearing those motions and said he intended to examine the issue of Zafke's health further, dpa reported.

Zafke is charged with 3,681 counts of accessory to murder for allegedly helping the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp function.

The charges stem from a one-month period in 1944 and involve the deaths of Jews who arrived in 14 train transports, among them one that brought Anne Frank and her family to the camp. Frank died later at Bergen-Belsen, and Zafke is not charged over her death.

Prosecutors allege that Zafke's unit was involved in putting gas into gas chambers to kill Jews and others, screening blood and other samples from hospitalized women prisoners, and otherwise helping the camp run by treating SS guard personnel.

They say the unit was also involved in auxiliary guard duties.

Zafke's attorney insists his client was just a medic who did nothing criminal at Auschwitz.
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