Hans Lipschis, a 93-year-old thought to have been a SS guard at Auschwitz, was arrested in Germany on Monday.
A man thought to have been a guard at the Auschwitz death camp has been arrested in Germany on suspicion of having assisted in the mass murder carried out there, the Stuttgart public prosecutor’s office said on Monday.
Hans Lipschis was taken into custody after authorities concluded there is “compelling evidence” he was involved in crimes at the camp while there from 1941 to 1945, prosecutor Claudia Krauth said.
Lipschis has acknowledged being assigned to an SS guard unit at Auschwitz but maintains he only served as a cook and was not involved in any war crimes.
A judge, however, upheld an arrest warrant after deciding there was enough evidence to hold Lipschis before charges on accessory to murder are brought.
Bringing formal charges, a process similar to a US grand jury indictment, would take another two months, Ms Krauth said.
In the meantime, a doctor has confirmed Lipschis’ health remains good enough for him to be kept in detention.
Lipschis was deported from the US in 1983 for lying about his past when he immigrated to Chicago in the 1950s after the war.
With no evidence linking him to specific war crimes, however, it was impossible under previous German law to bring charges against him in Germany.
But the case is now being pursued on the legal theory that a person who served at a death camp can be charged with accessory to murder because the camp’s sole function was to kill people.
The same theory was used to prosecute John Demjanjuk, who died last year while appealing his 2011 conviction in Germany for accessory to murder on the grounds that he served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland.
Even though the Demjanjuk conviction is not considered legally binding because he died before his appeals were exhausted, the special German prosecutors’ office that deals with Nazi crimes has said that about 50 other people in the same category are being investigated.
Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi hunter with the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, called the arrest of Lipschis – who ranks fourth on his current list of “most wanted Nazi war criminals” – a good start.
He said: “This is a very positive step, we welcome the arrest. I hope this will only be the first of many arrests, trials and convictions of death camp guards.”
In an interview last month with Die Welt newspaper at his home in southwestern Germany, Lipschis said he spent his entire time as a cook and had witnessed none of the atrocities. He did say, however, that he “heard about” what was going on.
About 1.5 million people, primarily Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz camp complex between 1940 and 1945.