Photo: ANNEGRET HILSE / REUTERS
Christoffel Heijer was six years old when he last saw his father.
Johan Hendrik Heijer was arrested by the Gestapo in March 1941 and shot in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
The Dutch social democrat had fought against the Nazis with a resistance group.
What remains to Christoffel Heijer is a letter that his father wrote on May 1, 1942.
In it he says goodbye to his family.
Christoffel Heijer brought this letter with him to Brandenburg an der Havel.
The trial of Josef S., a former security guard in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, begins there in the sports hall of the correctional facility, outside the prison walls.
As a member of an SS unit, the public prosecutor's office accuses him of complicity in murder in 3,518 cases.
It is an international case involving 16 joint plaintiffs.
They come from Israel, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany and Peru.
Seven of them survived the camp itself, the others are relatives of prisoners who were murdered in Sachsenhausen.
"I'll be 101 in November"
Christoffel Heijer sits in the improvised courtroom next to his lawyer Thomas Walther, who was a judge and employee of the Central Office of the State Justice Administration for the investigation of Nazi crimes in Ludwigsburg.
Without Walther, there would not have been some proceedings; in judicial circles he is called a "Nazi hunter".
Because of the immense security precautions, Josef S. takes a seat opposite them in the dock.
The presiding judge asks how old he is.
"I'll be 101 in November," says S. almost cheerfully.
He is probably the oldest defendant in one of the last Nazi trials.
He lives alone, only occasionally uses a walker.
An expert has declared him to have limited negotiating ability, so he can follow the negotiation for two to two and a half hours.
It is run by the jury chamber of the Neuruppin district court, which also relocated the hall to Brandenburg an der Havel so that S. has a shorter journey.
He lives just a few minutes' drive from the sports hall.
"Always armed with a rifle"
Josef S. was an SS guard from January 1942 to February 1945 in what was then the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Oranienburg, on the outskirts of Berlin. More than 200,000 people were imprisoned there, more than half of them were murdered there. Public Prosecutor Cyrill Klement accuses S. of having provided "cruel and insidious assistance" as an SS Rottenführer and member of the SS Totenkopf Guard Battalion, because his duties included guarding the camp. "Always armed with a rifle," S. had been on guard on one of the towers, seven days a week, ten to twelve hours by day or night.
Klement describes in detail the killings of thousands of inmates during the time that S. was on duty. He describes the mass executions of Soviet prisoners of war by shooting in the neck, which the Nazis called "Operation 14f14". Hundreds of Russians were taken to an industrial yard, where they had to step in front of an SS man in a white doctor's coat who examined their teeth. For each gold tooth he marked a blue X.
In the next room the prisoners had to stand at a measuring stick on the wall, behind the wall riflemen waited.
At the command "Ready!" They fired through a slit, hit the prisoner's neck or the back of the head.
Their blood was sprayed away with a hose, their corpses burned, and their gold teeth removed beforehand.
Each assassination could only last 90 seconds.
"The victims entered the room innocently," says Klement.
To drown out the gunshot noises, I played loud music from a radio.
Systematic killings of extermination specialists
Klement does not go easy on those involved in the process. He describes the hostile conditions that prevailed in the concentration camp, dying from "systematic malnutrition", refusal of medical help, sheer exhaustion. He describes the extermination operations in gas chambers, into which the inmates were directed, given a towel and soap and led to believe that they would be moved to another camp. He describes how a pipe got into the chamber and how the poison gas Zyklon B got into the pipe and how those affected fought for their lives: "They tore their hair out, scratched their skin, cramped up." Their corpses were pink, littered with green spots, foam on their mouths and blood in their ears.
Klement's charge is a summary of the systematic killings, the factory-like mass murder.
According to the public prosecutor, all of this was done "with the help of the accused, who knowingly and willingly supported this through his guard duty."
Josef S. follows the explanations with headphones in thick white hair.
He speaks to his defense attorney, who signals him to stay calm for the time being.
Leon Schwarzbaum is hoping for a verdict against Josef S.
Photo: ANNEGRET HILSE / REUTERS
Leon Schwarzbaum is sitting in a wheelchair against a wall in the auditorium, he is also 100 years old.
He was born in Hamburg and survived the Holocaust after being imprisoned in the Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.
Today he lives in Berlin.
It was important to him to be here at the start, he says.
He hopes the trial will be closed and a verdict passed.
The presiding judge turns to S. and says that he has the right to remain silent and the right to present what he considers necessary for the purpose of his defense.
Josef S. nods.
His defense lawyer says his client will only explain his personal history, not the accused.
"Level of guilt"
Co-plaintiff Hans-Jürgen Förster is surprised that S. does not want to comment on the allegations. The former federal prosecutor at the Federal Court of Justice and former head of the protection of the constitution in Brandenburg represents a survivor who now lives in Israel. Förster says that Josef S. now has the chance to explain how he experienced the period of the crime: Did he think about giving up his job as a security guard at the time? Did he consult with others who were in a similar situation? If so, you can use it to gauge the "degree of guilt" he has incurred.
Christoffel Heijer, whose father was murdered in Sachsenhausen, observes the accused on the first day of the trial.
On the next day of the trial, the 87-year-old wants to explain why the trial is still of great importance to him and the other bereaved dependents 76 years after the end of the Second World War.
Christoffel Heijer knows the names of the three SS men who shot his father Johan Hendrik.
They were not convicted.