A 93-year-old former Auschwitz death camp guard has died days before his trial was due to begin, dashing the hopes of elderly Jewish survivors of Nazi rule who wanted to see justice.
Ernst Tremmel was accused of helping to deport prisoners from Nazi transit camps in Berlin, Drancy in occupied France, and Westerbork in the occupied Netherlands.
Prosecutors say at least 1,075 prisoners were gassed to death shortly after arriving at Auschwitz. The suspect allegedly was a member of the SS-Totenkopfsturmbann group and served as a guard in Auschwitz from November 1, 1942 to June 25, 1943.
"He had been due to go on trial Wednesday at a court in Hanau, near Frankfurt, on charges of accessory to murder. The court confirmed his death Thursday.
Israel Loewenstein, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, had hoped Tremmel would face justice late in his life.
"But then again we don't know if he would have even told the truth about Auschwitz — many of the accused don't, after all," he told Reuters Friday.
Tremmel was a member of the Nazi guard team at the death camp in occupied Poland from November 1942 to June 1943.
Prosecutors said he volunteered to join the SS and started working as an Auschwitz guard at the age of 19.
Tremmel's platoon was regularly charged with overseeing the camp's "selection process," forming a human chain around the arriving deportation trains to prevent new arrivals from escaping before they were either selected for forced labor or sent off to be killed in the camp's gas chambers.
Loewenstein, who survived the Holocaust in various forced labor camps, remembered the selection process when he arrived at the death camp in March 1943 at the age of 18.
"We came to Auschwitz in the middle of the night after four days on a train without food," he recalled at his home in Yad Hana, a former kibbutz in northern Israel.
"Suddenly, the doors were torn open, headlights were blazing, German shepherds were barking and we only heard the guards yell 'Get out! Get out!'"
From the group of 100 people Loewenstein arrived with in Auschwitz, only 17 survived.
Loewenstein's parents, Paula and Walter, as well as Max Lichtwitz, the father of Foner, arrived on the same deportation train from Berlin on Dec. 9, 1942. All three were selected to be killed and died in the death camp's gas chambers the next day.