BERLIN — A 93-year-old man who acknowledges he served with the SS in the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp but claims he was only a cook is under investigation by German authorities as a possible accessory to murder, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Hans 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, said Thomas Will, a prosecutor with the German office that deals with Nazi war crimes.
But now the Lipschis case is 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, Will said that his office is investigating a total of about 50 people in the same category.
The initial investigation of the Lipschis case is now done, and the case has been handed to Stuttgart prosecutors to determine whether there is enough evidence to bring charges, Will said.
In an interview this month with Die Welt newspaper at his home in southwestern Germany, Lipschis said he spent his entire time as a cook for the other SS guards of the camp, 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.