German authorities have arrested a 93-year-old alleged former guard at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz on charges of complicity in the mass murder of prisoners.
Prosecutors in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said the man was believed to have worked at the camp between autumn 1941 and its closure in 1945.
Authorities declined to release the suspect's name but media reports and the Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was Hans Lipschis, who figures among the Center's most-wanted Nazis and is said to have served in the SS "Death's Head" battalion.
The man, who was detained at his home, "appeared before a judge and was taken into custody", the prosecutor's office in the state capital, Stuttgart, said in a statement on Monday.
"The indictment against him is currently being prepared." Claudia Krauth, the prosecutor, said.
Lipschis has been living in the Baden-Wuerttemberg town of Aalen and reportedly told the authorities that he worked as a cook, not a guard, in the camp in then occupied Poland.
Lipschis has acknowledged being assigned to an SS guard unit at Auschwitz but maintains he was not involved in any war crimes.
However, prosecutors said the evidence pointed to the fact that Lipschis had broader responsibilities.
"He took on supervisory duties although he did not only work as a guard," a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office told AFP news agency.
"We will try to determine concretely when and what he did at Auschwitz."
Krauth said a judge upheld her office's request for an arrest warrant after concluding there was enough evidence to hold him before charges on accessory to murder are brought.
Bringing formal charges, a process similar to a US grand jury indictment, would take another two months, she said.
In good health
In the meantime, Krauth said a doctor has confirmed Lipschis' health remains good enough for him to be kept in detention.
Lipschis does not currently have an attorney, and a public defender has not yet been appointed, she said.
Lipschis was deported from the US 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.
Stuttgart prosecutors confirmed to AFP last month that they were working on a probe launched late last year against a suspect who had worked at Auschwitz.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, in its 2013 report, lists Lipschis as its fourth most-wanted Nazi, saying he served in the SS-Totenkopf Sturmbann (Death's Head Battalion) from 1941 until 1945 at Auschwitz, and "participated in the mass murder and persecution of innocent civilians, primarily Jews".
'Ethnic German' status
Lithuanian-born Lipschis was granted "ethnic German" status by the Nazis.
He moved to the US in 1956 but was deported to Germany in 1983 for failing to reveal his SS past, Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported last month.
More than one million people, mostly European Jews, perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland from 1940 until it was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on January 27, 1945.
Germany has broadened the scope of its pursuit of Nazi war criminals since the 2011 conviction of Ukraine-born John Demjanjuk, a former guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland.
In that case, the court ruled that any role at a death camp amounted to accessory to murder, widening culpability from those found to have personally ordered or committed murders and atrocities.
Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years' prison for complicity in some 28,000 murders. He died at a nursing home last year while freed awaiting an appeal.