Hans Lipschis was taken into custody after authorities concluded there was “compelling evidence” he was involved in crimes at Auschwitz 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.
Krauth said, however, that a judge upheld her office’s request for an arrest warrant after concluding there was enough evidence to hold him before charges on accessory to murder are brought. Bringing formal charges, a process similar to a U.S. grand jury indictment, would take another two months, she said.
In the meantime, Krauth said a doctor has confirmed Lipschis’ health remains good enough for him to be kept in detention.
Lipschis does not currently have an attorney, and a public defender has not yet been appointed, she said.
Lipschis was deported from the U.S. in 1983 for lying about his Nazi 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 same legal theory used to prosecute former Ohio autoworker 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.
Under the new line of thinking, even without proof of participation in a specific crime, 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.
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 Center, called the arrest of Lipschis — who is No. 4 on his current list of “most wanted Nazi war criminals” — a good start.
“This is a very positive step, we welcome the arrest,” he said in a telephone interview from Israel. “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.
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