Tuesday 19 November 2019

'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz' dies before starting sentence

Oskar Groening admitted he was ‘morally guilty for the murders’ of Jews at Auschwitz, where he collected money from victims. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Oskar Groening admitted he was ‘morally guilty for the murders’ of Jews at Auschwitz, where he collected money from victims. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Karin Matussek in Berlin

The man known as the 'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz' who in 2015 became one of the last people to be convicted for crimes in the Nazi genocide of Europe's Jews during World War II, has died aged 96, magazine 'Der Spiegel' reported yesterday.

Oskar Groening was sentenced to four years for his role as an accessory to the murder of 300,000 of the Auschwitz concentration camp's roughly one million victims. He was in hospital when he died and had yet to begin his sentence.

'Spiegel' said Groening died on Friday but prison authorities had yet to receive a death certificate. He did not take part in any killings himself but counted cash taken from victims on their arrival at the camp.

Groening's court battle was seen as one of the last major trials related to the Holocaust, during which some six million Jews were murdered by Adolf Hitler's regime. Despite his conviction, the start of his sentence was delayed by legal wrangling and his ill health.

He came to attention in 2005 after giving interviews about his work in the camp in an attempt to persuade Holocaust deniers that the genocide had taken place at a time when most Holocaust prosecutions still focused on leaders rather than rank-and-file perpetrators.

Groening admitted he was morally guilty for the work he carried out at Auschwitz.

His job was to collect money and valuables from prisoners' luggage and send them to Berlin. In July 2015, he was sentenced to four years in prison. Initially deemed too ill for prison, he was declared fit for imprisonment in December and was scheduled to start serving his sentence soon.

"It's very clear that I am morally guilty for the murders and I acknowledge that guilt here today with remorse," he said at his trial.

Trained as a banker, Groening told judges that he tried several times to be relocated to another post or to the front. The first time was when he saw an SS guard kill a baby by smashing it against a truck. The second was when he saw an SS soldier pour gas through a slot into a farmhouse where Jews were held. His third request to be relocated was finally accepted at the end of 1944 and he was moved to the front, he said.

"Albeit belatedly, justice has been done," Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said after the conviction. "Groening was only a small cog in the Nazi death machine, but without the actions of people like him, the mass murder of millions of Jews and others would not have been possible."

Auschwitz, the world's biggest cemetery for the number of deaths that occurred there from 1941 to 1945, included concentration, labour and extermination camps. As many as 1.5 million people were killed there during the Holocaust, according to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

Irish Independent

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