Trial witnesses say he should lecture, not rot in prison
OSKAR Gröning, called the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, has been found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of 300 000 people and sentenced to four years in prison, in perhaps one of the last big Holocaust trials.
The former SS soldier, 94, stared impassively ahead as he was convicted at the regional court in Lüneburg, Germany, yesterday for his role in trying to exterminate Europe’s Jews.
Groning, a bank teller before joining the SS, worked at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp from September 1942 to October 1944, taking money and valuables from arriving prisoners.
He was charged with complicity in the murder of 300 000 Hungarian Jews taken to the camp over the course of just a few weeks in the summer of 1944.
During his time at Auschwitz, Groning’s job was to collect the belongings of the deportees after their arrival at the camp by train and being put through a selection process that saw many sent directly to the gas chambers.
Groning, who was 21 and by his own admission an enthusiastic Nazi when he was sent to the camp in 1942, inspected people’s luggage, removing and counting any bank notes that were inside and sending them on to SS offices in Berlin, where they helped to fund the Nazi war effort.
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 carried out at the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
The sentence was longer than the 3½ years that prosecutors had requested. Groning’s lawyers had sought an acquittal.
He is expected to appeal, so it is unclear whether he will ever serve time in prison.
Leon Schwarzbaum, 94, who said he lost 30 members of his family during the Holocaust, was the only Auschwitz survivor able to attend the verdict at short notice after it was handed down a full week earlier than expected.
He said afterwards: “I’m satisfied with the judgment. However, he shouldn’t go to prison.
“He was complicit but there were much worse criminals who are still outside, or who died without standing trial.”
Another Auschwitz survivor, Eva Mozes Kor, one of the 70 coplaintiffs, who had earlier embraced Groning during the trial, said of the verdict: “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.
“His value to society is in speaking about what happened.
“That is what the German court should think about – what would provide the greatest value to society?”
Groning testified in April, and again in July, that he was so horrified by the crimes he saw at the camp after his arrival in 1942 that he appealed three times to his superiors for a transfer to the front.
His transfer was finally granted late in 1944.