(CNN) – He says he knew nothing, saw nothing, and killed no one but German prosecutors say otherwise.
A 95-year old former Nazi medic went on trial Monday, accused of aiding in the murder of thousands of prisoners at Auschwitz. However, the judge has already suspended the proceedings, over the defendant’s alleged health problems.
When 15-year-old Ben Lesser left Auschwitz, he weighed about 65 pounds. He managed to live off a slice of bread for 3 days crammed into a cattle car bound for the Dachau labor camp. He remembers stumbling out of the train but little else. He now knows of the 3000 aboard, only 17 survived. He is the only one alive today at age 88.
“Sometimes I think: Why did I survive? And I tell myself: God wanted a witness,” said Lesser.
Lesser will be a witness to one of four ongoing trials in Germany to prosecute those who maintained the Nazi death camps. Including Rheinhold Hanning and Hans Tremmel, former Auschwitz guards and Hubert Zafke, a former Auschwitz medic as well as a woman radio operator at Auschwitz. All are in their 90s. None are accused of directly committing mass murder. Charged instead with being accessories to the killing of thousands by being a part of the administration of Auschwitz.
Germany’s Chief Public Prosecutor for Nazi crimes explains, it’s a race against time.
“At Nuremberg, it was Hitler, Himmler and Goering that were convicted. Only 4 or 5 really held responsible. But there was also the bureaucracy and apparatus at work. That’s what we are prosecuting today,” said Jens Rommel, Chief Public Prosecutor for Nazi crimes.
Though he hates the term, Kurt Schrimm was Germany’s leading Nazi-hunter for more than 15 years. It was his successful investigation of John Demjanjuk, a former guard at Sobibor camp that opened the way for others to be charged as accessories to mass murder. But even these legal victories are not enough for Schrimm.
“There will never be justice. Yes, we have dealt with some, small portion of cases. But there are so many more that went unpunished. I’ll never forget sitting in front of a man, a former Gestapo chief, who I knew, who even privately admitted, that he had personally ordered the killing of hundreds of people. But I could not prove it. And he walked free. He died at the age of 93,” said Schrimm.
In all 4 cases now on trial, the defendants have admitted to working at Auschwitz. But all maintain they did not know of the tens of thousands that were killed there. Lesser travelled 6000 miles from Las Vegas to say this in court, “Impossible. When we arrived. There was ash everywhere. Ash from the burning of my people. So deep that when you put your foot into the snow, it was covered with ash. And the smell, the strange, horrible smell of people burning. Everywhere. It was impossible not to know.”
A witness to horror now hoping for some small measure of justice.