Former Auschwitz guard charged in 'last chance' push for justice

BERLIN (Reuters) - German prosecutors on Thursday charged a 93-year-old alleged former guard at the Auschwitz death camp as an accessory to murder, part of a renewed drive to bring lower-level Nazi collaborators to justice before they die.

The prosecution service in the city of Stuttgart said the accused worked as a guard at Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland from 1941 to 1943, a period in which 12 prisoner convoys arrived at the death camp.

More than 10,000 of those prisoners were determined unfit for work and sent to the gas chamber immediately upon arrival.

Prosecutors did not name the man but German media identified him as Hans Lipschis, who was arrested by German police in May and ranks fourth on the Nazi-hunting group Simon Wiesenthal's list of most wanted Nazi criminals.

Lipschis's arrest was made possible by the 2011 conviction in Munich of Ivan Demjanjuk, who was found to have been an accessory to the murder of almost 28,000 Jews in Sobibor by virtue of having served as a guard at a death camp. He was the first ex-Nazi convicted in Germany without evidence of a specific crime or a specific victim.

Lipschis told the German newspaper Die Welt this year that he had been a cook at Auschwitz and had later left the camp to fight on the Eastern Front, although he could not remember which unit he had been in.

The head of the German agency that probes Nazi war crimes, Kurt Schrimm, told Reuters the accused was on a list of 30 former Auschwitz guards it wants to prosecute for their role in facilitating mass murder.

"The investigation was short but intensive. We looked for documents that showed that (the accused) was on duty on particular days when the transports came in," said Claudia Krauth, state prosecutor for the Stuttgart court.

"If we have proof that someone has committed a crime, we are required to prosecute that person."

The Stuttgart prosecutors said the accused had lived in the United States for 26 years after World War Two but had had his U.S. citizenship revoked after his involvement with the Nazis came to light. He moved back to Germany in 1982.

German officials are trying to track down other low-level collaborators in a "last chance" hunt for ageing perpetrators of the Holocaust, in which some 6 million Jews were murdered.

Some 1.5 million people perished at Auschwitz, mostly Jews but also Roma, Poles and others, between 1940 and 1945. (Reporting by Sophie Duvernoy; Editing by Gareth Jones and Kevin Liffey)

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