The trial of an orderly who worked at Auschwitz when Anne Frank was held there has been suspended. As reported by the Guardian, Hubert Zafke, who is charged with the complicity in the murder of “at least 3,681 people,” has been suspended, as he is “not fit to go to court” and is “suffering from stress reaction and hypertension.” Zafke was on trial in Germany.
Zafke, 95, was an SS medic at Auschwitz when Anne Frank arrived in September 1944. Anne’s mother, Edith Frank, died of starvation at Auschwitz, and 15-year-old Anne and her sister Margot Frank died at the Bergen-Belsen camp in 1945, probably of typhoid. Zafke is the third member of the Auschwitz SS to go on trial in a year, according to the Independent.
“His [Zafke’s] trial in Neubrandenburg, north of Berlin…follows the prosecution of former SS Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning, 94 whose trial is currently under way in the German town of Detmold and the conviction last year of 94-year-old Oskar Gröning, a former SS guard nicknamed the ‘Book-keeper of Auschwitz.'”
This recent spate of prosecutions is driven in part by the fact that very few Holocaust survivors are still around to give evidence; the last survivor of the Treblinka camp, Samuel Willenberg, died last month. It has become the custom in such trials for camp survivors to testify, offering many of them what might be the last chance to recount their ordeals during the Holocaust. However, the judge in Zafke’s trial at first chose to refuse eyewitness testimony from survivors, although she has since been relented. Christoph Heubner, the executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, spoke to the Guardian.
“Survivors have been given the very strong impression that the Neubrandenburg judge adopted an arrogant position of denial towards Auschwitz survivors as co-plaintiffs and participants in the trial…why the judge in Neubrandenburg chose such a different path to that of other similar trials in Lüneburg and Detmold is inexplicable to them…”
Although there were approximately 6,500 SS personnel at Auschwitz, only 49 have been prosecuted in Germany. According to the Guardian, the others “escaped justice because of the belief that prevailed until recently that anyone who had served under the Nazis had been forced to do so by the regime, and therefore was not guilty.”
However, since the 2011 trial of Sobibor guard John Demjanjuk, “it has been considered sufficient to pursue someone on the grounds that they were a cog in the apparatus, however small.”
It is not yet known if doctors will rule Zafke fit for trial. Two further court dates in March have been scheduled but they are dependent on Zafke’s health.
There are millions of stories of Holocaust heroism and tragedy, but that of Anne Frank has a particular resonance. Although born in Germany, Anne and her family moved to Amsterdam in the early 1930s after the Nazi party took control in Germany.
Anne and the Frank family hid in secret rooms in the building where Anne’s father, Otto Frank, worked. The Frank family was betrayed in 1944 and deported to concentration camps. During her time in hiding, Anne kept a diary, later published as The Diary of a Young Girl, or The Diary of Anne Frank, in which Anne detailed the dreams and wishes of a typical teenage girl, as well as the harsh reality of being hidden away from the world. Anne’s diary was retrieved from a friend by the sole survivor of the Frank family, Otto, after the war.
The house in which Anne and her family hid is now a museum dedicated to Anne, the Frank family, and the millions of people who lost their lives during the Holocaust. Anne Frank’s diary has sold around 30 million copies, been translated into 67 languages, and used as the basis for countless plays and movies.
The fact that Anne Frank, her life, and diary still hold such interest 70 years after her death shows that the horrors and heroism of World War II are still very vivid in the collective conscious. The prosecution of those involved in the Holocaust remains a contentious subject, particularly among those personally involved.
According to the Guardian, Zafke’s son spoke last year about his father’s prosecution.
“My father is an elderly man. He has lived his life, so leave him in peace.”
Anne Frank has given us many poignant quotes that have survived despite the horrors of Zafke’s Auschwitz and the decimation of the war, and continue to bring hope to those still affected decades later.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
[Image via Ronald Wilfred Jansen/Shutterstock]