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Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening jailed by German court over 300,000 deaths

Published 15/07/2015

March 1938 file photo, Adolf Hitler, salutes German troops parading in Vienna, Austria.
March 1938 file photo, Adolf Hitler, salutes German troops parading in Vienna, Austria.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor meet Adolf Hitler in 1937
Undated handout photo issued by Channel 4 of American army intelligence officer Paul Baer at the Berghof, Hitler's Bavarian residence. Baer was a US 7th Army captain, who had privileged access to the property and took a number of items from Eva Braun's private apartment, DNA analysis conducted for the TV documentary Dead Famous DNA shows Hitler might have married a woman of Jewish descent. Photo: Channel 4/PA Wire
Hitler's lover Eva Braun was possibly of Jewish ancestry, according to a TV show
The puppet Latvian government, under Adolf Hitler's Nazis, sent thousands to slave labour camps and almost certain death
Adolf Hitler apparently intervened to save a Jewish ex-army comrade from being sent to a death camp
Joachim von Ribbentrop, Adolf Hitler and Martin Bormann.
A recently discovered postcard which suggests Adolf Hitler was was surprisingly keen to return to the front line
A recently discovered postcard which suggests Adolf Hitler was was surprisingly keen to return to the front line
Adolf Hitler pictured in 1938 with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini
Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialists, emerges from the party's Munich headquarters on December 5, 1931.
Adolf Hitler's birth house in Braunau am Inn, Austria (AP)
The "A Hitler" signature on a picture titled The Old City Hall that was painted by Adolf Hitler (AP)
A former SS guard at Auschwitz has asked God for forgiveness
Oskar Groening denies committing atrocities at Auschwitz

A 94-year-old former SS sergeant who served at the Auschwitz death camp has been convicted of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder.

The state court in the northern German city of Lueneburg gave Oskar Groening a four-year sentence.

Groening testified that he guarded prisoners' baggage after they arrived at Auschwitz and collected money stolen from them.

Prosecutors said that amounted to helping the death camp function.

The charges against Groening related to a period between May and July 1944 when hundreds of thousands of Jews from Hungary were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Most were immediately gassed to death.

During his trial opened, Groening acknowledged having helped collect and tally money as part of his job dealing with belongings stolen from people arriving at the camp, earning him the nickname "Accountant of Auschwitz".

In his statement to judges, he did not detail direct participation in any atrocities.

He concluded: "I share morally in the guilt but whether I am guilty under criminal law, you will have to decide."

Groening does not deny serving as a guard but says he committed no crime.

Former Nazi SS officer Oskar Groening listens to the verdict of his trial on July 15, 2015 at court in Lueneburg, northern Germany.
Former Nazi SS officer Oskar Groening listens to the verdict of his trial on July 15, 2015 at court in Lueneburg, northern Germany.

He told reporters as he arrived at the court in Lueneburg, south of Hamburg, that he expected an acquittal.

Groening told the court he volunteered to join the SS in 1940 after training as a banker, and served at Auschwitz from 1942 to 1944. He said he unsuccessfully sought a transfer after witnessing one of the atrocities.

"I share morally in the guilt but whether I am guilty under criminal law, you will have to decide," Groening told the panel of judges hearing the case as he closed an hour-long statement to the court. Under the German legal system, defendants do not enter formal pleas.

"Through his job, the defendant supported the machinery of death," prosecutor Jens Lehmann said as he read out the indictment.

In his statement, Groening recalled that he and a group of recruits were told by an SS major before going to Auschwitz they would "perform a duty that will clearly not be pleasant, but one necessary to achieve final victory".

He said the major gave no details, but other SS men told Groening at Auschwitz that Jews were being selected for work and those who couldn't work were being killed.

Polish police said the teenagers were spotted acting suspiciously at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Polish police said the teenagers were spotted acting suspiciously at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
An estimated 56,000 people were killed at Buchenwald
The crematorium in the Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp showing two of the ovens where victims were cremated is seen in this undated file picture. The bodies were slid into the ovens by means of small wagons which ran on tracks. 60 years ago, on January 27, 1945, Red Army soldiers liberated the Concentration Camp in Auschwitz, Poland.
** FILE ** A picture taken just after the liberation by the Soviet army in January, 1945, shows a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms behind barbed wire fencing in the Oswiecim (Auschwitz) nazi concentration camp. 60 years ago, on January 27, 1945, Red Army soldiers liberated the Concentration Camp in Auschwitz, Poland.
Reproduction of a part of the death certificate issued on December 26, 1949 in Gunzburg, Germany and legalized in the Uruguayan consulate, of the brother of fugitive German Nazi criminal Josef Mengele, Karl Thaddaus Mengele. The infamous doctor Josef Mengele, also known as the "Angel of Death", carried out particularly cruel medical experiments on Jew and Gipsy inmates of the Auschwitz concentration camp and took part in the selection of thousands of prisoners for their execution in the Nazi gas chambers. He managed to escape from justice at the end of World War II and arrived in Argentina on June 20, 1949 with an International Red Cross-issued passport under the alias "Gregor Helmut". After his 1958 marriage in Uruguay he left for Paraguay and later for Brazil, where he died in freedom in 1979. AFP PHOTO/HO (Photo credit should read HO/AFP/Getty Images)
** FILE ** This file picture of 1956 shows the WWII war criminal Josef Mengele. The Israeli agents who kidnapped Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann from Argentina in 1960 knowingly let the notorious death camp doctor Josef Mengele get away, one of the operatives said Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008. Eichmann played a key role in planning the mass murder of Jews during World War II and was hanged in Israel. Mengele was an infamous Nazi doctor at the Auschwitz death camp who carried out horrific medical experiments on prisoners. He was never captured and died in 1979. (AP Photo, file)
A single child's white shoe stands out amongst around 30 thousand shoes at the former Auschwitz I camp. Sunday January 27th is International Holocaust Memorial Day which marks the date when Auschwitz was liberated. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday January 26, 2008. Photo credit should read: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
circa 1943: Jewish women and children, some wearing the yellow Star of David patch on their chests, at Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland, undergoing selections. Many were sent immediately for gassing by Dr Josef Mengele, the head doctor of the concentration camp. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
This 1944 photo provided by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) shows an accordionist leading a sing-along for SS officers at their retreat at Solahutte outside Auschwitz, Poland. In the front row are Karl Hoecker, Otto Moll, Rudolf Hoess, Richard Baer, Josef Karmer, Franz Hoessler, and Josef Mengele. The photo is one of approximately 116 rare photographs of senior SS officers and Nazi officials at the Auschwitz concentration camp unveiled Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007, by the museum. (AP Photo/USHMM) ** ONE TIME USE ONLY. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES **
This 1944 photo provided by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum shows SS officers, including several SS physicians, sit around a table drinking at Auschwitz, Poland. Among those pictured are Karl Hoecker,far left, Dr. Fritz Klein, left hand side, end of table, Dr. Horst Schumann and Dr. Eduard Wirths on the right side of the bench, third from the front. The photo is one of approximately 116 rare photographs of senior SS officers and Nazi officials at the Auschwitz concentration camp included in Hoecker's photo album, unveiled Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007, by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. (AP Photo/USHMM) ** ONE TIME USE ONLY. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES **
This 1944 photo provided by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) shows a group of SS officers gathered in front of a building at Solahutte, the SS retreat outside of Auschwitz, Poland. From left, Josef Kramer, Dr. Josef Mengele, Richard Baer, Karl Hoecker and unidentified. The photo is one of approximately 116 rare photographs of senior SS officers and Nazi officials at the Auschwitz concentration camp included in Hoecker's photo album, unveiled Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007, by the museum. (AP Photo/USHMM) ** ONE TIME USE ONLY. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES **
This 1944 photo provided by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum shows members of the SS Helferinnen, female auxiliaries, siting on a fence railing in Solahutte, a little known SS resort some 30 km. south of Auschwitz on the Sola River in Poland, as Karl Hoecker passes out bowls of blueberries. The photo is one of approximately 116 rare photographs of senior SS officers and Nazi officials at the Auschwitz concentration camp included in Hoecker's photo album and unveiled Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007, by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. (AP Photo/USHMM) ** ONE TIME USE ONLY. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES **
CHILDREN WHO SURVIVED AUSCHWITZ CONCENTRATION CAMP AFTER LIBERATION...WAS02:GERMANY-DEUTSCHE-AUSCHWITZ,4FEB99 - FILE PHOTO 27JAN45 - Survivors of Auschwitz are shown during the first hours of the concentration camp's liberation by soldiers of the Soviet army, January 27, 1945. Manfred Pohl, a Deutsche Bank historian, said February 4 that Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank AG, lent funds to firms involved in the building of the World War Two camp. An estimated 1.5 million people were killed in the camp during World War Two. (B&W ONLY, NO SALES, NO ARCHIVES, ONLINES OUT, ONE TIME EDITORIAL USE WITHIN 90 DAYS OF TRANSMISSION) hb/Photo by B. Fishman-Corbis-Bettmann REUTERS...I
This photograph shows a postcard with a satirical scene from Nazi-occupied Warsaw, hand-painted by art student Michal Porulski in 1940, shortly before he was sent to the Auschwitz and Dachau Nazi death camps. The writing reads, "First they will distribute soup then bread." (AP Photo/Warsaw Museum of Caricature)
Heaps of shoes taken from gassed inmates at Auschwitz

He described the arrival of transports of Jewish prisoners in detail, and recalled an incident in late 1942 when another SS man smashed a baby against a truck, "and his crying stopped". He said he was "shocked" and the following day asked a lieutenant for a transfer, which was not granted.

Groening, who entered the court with a walking frame, appeared lucid as he gave his statement, pausing occasionally to cough or drink water. It is unclear how long the trial will last; court sessions have been scheduled through the end of July.

The trial is the first to test a new line of German legal reasoning that has unleashed an 11th-hour wave of investigations of Nazi war crimes suspects. Prosecutors argue that anyone who was a death camp guard can be charged as an accessory to murders committed there, even without evidence of involvement in a specific death.

There are 11 open investigations against former Auschwitz guards, and charges have been filed in three of those cases including Groening's. A further eight former Majdanek guards are also under investigation.

About 60 Holocaust survivors or their relatives from the US, Canada, Israel and elsewhere have joined the prosecution as co-plaintiffs, as is allowed under German law.

Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor said Groening was a very old man who had had a hard life, "but by his own doing".

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