Court proceedings against Bruno Dey were unusual — held in two two-hour sessions a week because of his age and tried in juvenile court because he was between the age of 17 and 18 when he served at the camp between 1944 and 1945 in the final months of World War II.
The state court in Hamburg also had to navigate the coronavirus pandemic and take additional precautions.
Prosecutors had called for a three-year sentence, but Dey was instead given a two-year suspended sentence.
“How could you get used to the horror?” presiding judge Anne Meier-Goering asked as she announced the verdict.
In a closing statement earlier this week, the wheelchair-bound German retiree apologized for his role in the Nazis’ machinery of destruction, saying “it must never be repeated.”
“Today, I want to apologize to all of the people who went through this hellish insanity,” Dey told the court.
Prosecutors prevailed in securing a conviction for Dey by relying on a precedent set in previous Nazi crime cases that forgo providing evidence in each specific murder– a near-impossible task due to the circumstances of deaths related to concentration camps and time elapsed. Instead, prosecutors argued that guarding a camp whose sole purpose is murder is enough for an accessory to a murder conviction.
Prosecutors argued that as a Stutthof guard from August 1944 to April 1945, Dey — though “no ardent worshipper of Nazi ideology” — aided all the killings that took place there during that period as a “small wheel in the machinery of murder.”
The camp was a so-called “work education camp” for forced laborers, primarily Polish and Soviet citizens, and the majority of whom were Jewish, were sent to serve sentences and often died.
Others incarcerated there included political prisoners, accused criminals, people suspected of homosexual activity, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
More than 60,000 people were killed at Stutthof by lethal injections of gasoline or phenol directly to their hearts, shot, or starved. Others were forced outside in winter without clothing until they died of exposure or were put to death in a gas chamber.
As a guard there, Dey said his post was usually to watch over prisoner labor crews working outside the camp.
Dey acknowledged hearing screams from the camp’s gas chambers and watching as corpses were taken to be burned, but he said he never fired his weapon and once allowed a group to smuggle meat from a dead horse they’d discovered back into the camp.
“The images of misery and horror have haunted me my entire life,” he testified.
For more than 20 years Nazi-hunters have tried cases against former prison guards from concentration camps across Europe, and although many of the convictions have been dubbed the last of its kind, several still remain under investigation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.