A former Nazi death camp guard who died last year before answering charges of murdering 430,000 Jews may have been assassinated, prosecutors said on Sunday.
Samuel Kunz, 89, was charged in July 2010 for taking part in the murders at the Belzec death camp in occupied Poland where he served as a guard from January 1942 to July 1943.
He was also charged with murder over ‘personal excesses’ in which he allegedly shot ten Jews in two incidents before they were due to be gassed.
Accused: Samuel Kunz, 89, was charged in July 2010 for taking part in the murders at the Belzec death camp in occupied Poland where he served as a guard from January 1942 to July 1943
Kunz was third on the list of most-wanted Nazi war criminals drawn up by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Israel before he died in November.
Now Bonn prosecutors have confirmed the launch of a probe into his death after receiving information that his demise was ‘unnatural.’
Kunz, who worked for years for the German state building ministry, was 89 when he died. The initial conclusion that he succumbed to heart failure is being challenged after it emerged that the post-mortem showed he died of hypothermia.
Proud Nazi: Samuel Kunz as a young man in uniform
A lawyer has filed an official complaint that he died of unnatural causes, which has prompted the investigation. The allegation is that someone left him out in the cold on purpose to kill him. ‘In effect, an assassination,’ said the prosecutor’s office.
Shortly after his death it emerged that the shadowy group Stille Hilfe – Silent Aid – which is run by former S.S. chief Heinrich Himmler’s daughter had been paying for Kunz’s legal fees.
Just who might have been in a position to slip into Kunz’s sheltered housing apartment to leave him in the cold to die is not clear.
Kunz was interrogated by the German authorities in 1969, 1975 and 1980 although never prosecuted. A sea-change in attitudes towards old Nazis in the German prosecution service in recent years has seen a flurry of indictments, including that of John Demjanjuk, an accused death camp guard at the extermination camp of Sobibor whose trial has been running in Munich for over a year and is due to end next month.
The Munich prosecutor’s office came across Kunz’s name on the roster of Trawniki camp guards – the S.S. facility where he trained – while investigating Demjanjuk, and the case against him was re-activated.
Kunz, unlike Demjanjuk, admitted to being based at a camp, Belzec, during 1942-43, but he denied ‘personal responsibility’ in the deaths.
Belzec was one of four secret death factories, the others being Treblinka, Chelmno and Sobibor, that the SS established to kill the Jews of Poland and some Russian prisoners of war early in the war.
Final solution: Nazi guards at Belzec death camp in occupied Poland in 1942. Belzec was one of four secret death factories that the SS established to kill the Jews of Poland and some Russian prisoners of war early in the war.
By the time the camps were destroyed – to be replaced by Auschwitz – more than 2.5 million people had been killed in them in a programme the Nazis dubbed ‘Operation Reinhard’.
In nine months of operation in 1942 at least 450,000, and possibly as many as 600,000, Jews were killed in the carbon monoxide gas chambers of Belzec.
Kunz had actually been called as a witness in the Demjanjuk trial which centred on the latter’s role as a guard in the Sobibor camp during 1943.
It saddens the victims of the Holocaust to see their tormentors die before they are judged for their crimes.
Former Nazi SS officer Erich Steidtmann, who was suspected but never convicted of involvement in Second World War massacres, died in July.
Adolf Storms, a 90-year-old former SS sergeant who was number four on the Simon Wiesenthal list, died the same month.