Terezin concentration camp guard Malloth stands trial at last

Terezin cemetery and crematorium

Fifty-six years after the end of World War II one of the cruellest guards of North Bohemia's Terezin concentration camp is finally standing trial. Anton Malloth, now 89 years old and seriously ill, is finally to be punished for his wartime crimes committed against the camp's mostly Jewish prisoners. Olga Szantova reports.

Terezin cemetery and crematorium
This is not Anton Malloth's first trial. In 1948 a Czechoslovak court found him guilty of torturing and killing Terezin prisoners and sentenced him to death. But Anton Malloth had gone into hiding after the war and the verdict was passed in absentia. The German authorities investigated the case for 20 years, but failed to act on the grounds that there was insufficient proof to back the allegations which Malloth has always denied. With documents unavailable, the trial now under way in Munich was only made possible thanks to the testimony of prisoners who had witnessed at least some of Malloth's crimes and could testify in court.

The Nazis used Terezin as a transit camp during the Second World War and more than a half of those imprisoned there lost their lives - about a fifth of them in the North Bohemian fortress itself, the rest in Nazi death camps. Of the 200,000 prisoners in Terezin, some 15,000 were children, only one hundred of whom survived. One of them was the well-known Czech author, Ivan Klima.

"I came there when I was ten and I was liberated when I was fourteen, nearly fourteen. It was, of course, quite a different childhood, without any possibility to leave the town, and at the beginning, even to leave the barrack, where I was placed. And we lived under danger that we would be sent to Auschwitz, of which we were terribly afraid. It was life on a very week string."

Not all the prisoners in Terezin were Jews, there was also a special camp, known as the Little Fortress, where political prisoners were held and tortured. This was actually the place where Anton Malloth was stationed. He was one of the more sadistic guards, feared by the prisoners. He is standing trial for just a fraction of what he did. Witnesses have testified that he sadistically killed two inmates in the camp by training a powerful jet of water on their naked bodies for half an hour. This was outdoors, in January 1944. He is also being tried for clubbing a third prisoner to death for attempting to steal a cabbage during harvest work near the camp.

Just 56 years since the end of World War II, it seems rather late to punish such crimes, especially since Malloth is 89 and seriously ill. Ivan Klima stresses that the vast majority of war criminals already have been punished and every effort should be made to punish all of them. It may not make any sense to send Anton Malloth to jail, but he should be tried.

"To sentence him has its sense. They can prove three or four matters only, but these people murdered, either directly, or indirectly, much, much, much more people. People were dying there, they were suffering there. They are really guilty of this terrible and horrible system which punished people without any sentence proclaimed by court."

Unlike those days, war criminals stand trial and have the full right to defend themselves. The trial with Anton Malloth, known by his victims as Handsome Tony, is expected to last twelve weeks. And, as the director of the Terezin Memorial, who is one of the witnesses, says, the verdict is not as important as the fact that, at long last, the trial is being held.

Author: Olga Szantová
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