Friday 24 November 2017

Book-keeper of Auschwitz should tour schools, not rot in prison, says survivor

94-year-old former SS sergeant Oskar Groening listens to the verdict of his trial. Photo: AP
94-year-old former SS sergeant Oskar Groening listens to the verdict of his trial. Photo: AP
Oskar Groening as a young man in an SS uniform. Photo: AP

Melanie Hall in Luneburg

A Holocaust survivor has criticised a German court which sentenced a 94-year-old "bookkeeper of Auschwitz" to four years in prison for his complicity in the murder of 300,000 Jews, saying he should tour schools as rehabilitation rather than "rot in jail".

Oskar Gröning was found guilty of being an accessory to the atrocities carried out in the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau over a few weeks in the summer of 1944. He remains free until a decision on whether and how much of his jail time he will have to serve.

Gröning, who trained as a bank teller before joining the SS, worked at Auschwitz from September 1942 to October 1944, taking money and valuables from the trainloads of arriving prisoners.

He has previously acknowledged "moral guilt", but said it is up to the court to rule on his legal culpability 70 years after the war. Gröning stared ahead impassively as he was convicted in the packed courtroom in Luneburg, near Hamburg, in what will likely be one of the last Nazi trials.

Survivor Eva Mozes Kor (81), one of the 70 co-plaintiffs, and who was in court for the verdict, said: "He admitted to his wrongdoing, he asked for forgiveness, and he bore witness to what happened. His value is not in sitting in jail at age 94."

Mrs Kor and her twin sister were experimented on by the physician Josef Mengele. She told the hearing how they evaded being gassed because of Mengele's obsession with twins.

She added: "Find him guilty. But the punishment, I think, is outrageous. Instead of putting him in jail, he can lecture two to four times per month to German students. Every time he lectures to a group of students, he will testify about it and will relive those experiences. In jail he doesn't have to talk about it - he can just rot away."

On Tuesday, Gröning told the judges he was "very sorry" for his time at the Nazi camp.

"No one should have taken part in Auschwitz," he said. "I know that. I sincerely regret not having lived up to this realisation earlier and more consistently. I am very sorry."

Although he was not accused of gassing prisoners, he was deemed to have seen enough violence to have a clear understanding of the mass murder.

Earlier in the trial, Gröning hugged Mrs Kor in a show of forgiveness. The embrace came as a "bit of a surprise", said Mrs Kor yesterday.

"I wouldn't have done it but I'm glad it happened."

At the end of the roughly three-month trial, the judge said Gröning had lived in peace and quiet since the end of the war, going unpunished for "an unfathomable crime".

"Mr Gröning is not a monster," said Judge Franz Kompisch, adding that he had taken an easier path by avoiding fighting at the front.

"You chose the safe desk job," he told the accused.

"What you consider to be moral guilt and what you depict as being a cog in the wheel is exactly what lawmakers view as being an accessory to murder," said Judge Kompisch.

Angela Orosz-Richt, a Jew who was born in Auschwitz and was a co-plaintiff in the court case, said the fact that the trial had been held and Gröning had been convicted was more important than the length of his prison sentence.

"I hope this important trial has also helped to educate today's generation about what really happened and to combat anti-Semitism," she said.

During his time at Auschwitz, Gröning's job was to collect the belongings of deportees after they arrived at the camp by train and had been put through a selection process that resulted in many being sent directly to the gas chambers.

Gröning, who was 21 and by his own admission an enthusiastic Nazi when he was sent to work at the camp in 1942, inspected people's luggage, removing and counting any bank notes and sending them on to SS offices in Berlin, where they helped to fund the Nazi war effort. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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