Resolution sought after 73-year long case

Sharon Schmelzle , Contributing Writer

The universal concept of a court system is to serve justice by both protecting its citizens and properly disciplining the wrongdoings of criminals. What sets apart certain cases as controversial is when these two aspects collide in a gray area, and the distinction between innocence and culpability is blurred. The case of 95-year-old Hubert Zafke seems to fall under this category of ambiguity; a former medical attendant at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, this man will be undergoing trial in Germany for being an accessory to at least 3,681 murders over a one-month period in 1944.

The indictment states that Zafke was an SS sergeant from October 1943 until January 1944 and served as a paramedic from Aug. 15 to Sept. 14 in 1944. During his time as a medic, no fewer than 14 trains of prisoners, one of which included Anne Frank, arrived at the camp. The prosecution has accused him of being aware of the concentration camp’s “industrial scale” killing, and that through being a participant of the organization, he knowingly aided and even accelerated thousands of deaths.

Despite his advanced age and the 73-year gap between his crimes and the trial, I believe that the legal proceeding is not only completely justified but that he should be imprisoned upon being found guilty. In December, Zafke was ruled by court to be healthy enough for trial, so the main ethical point of dispute in my opinion is the fact that he is 95 years old. I do not regard old age as an absolving factor of being an accessory to murder, especially when pertaining to such a large-scale and particularly horrendous case. I also put into consideration that for the majority of his life (besides his four years spent in a Polish prison for different Auschwitz crimes), Zafke has been walking free. I do not think he deserved his relatively full life when he participated in ending thousands of others, and that there should be a “better late than never” mentality regarding his age. The prison sentence last July of 94-year-old Oskar Gröning for being accessory to the murder of 300,000 people in Auschwitz is clear precedent for what the outcome of this case should be.

This case will undoubtedly receive much attention during its development and sentencing after the court proceedings begin on Feb. 29. We can only hope that despite his age and the considerable time gap between the offense and the trial, the verdict will reflect Zafke’s crimes.

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