25 October 2016
Oskar Groening listens to the verdict during his trial in Lueneburg, Germany, on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
Oskar Groening listens to the verdict during his trial in Lueneburg, Germany, on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

Auschwitz bookkeeper, 94, gets four-year jail term

A 94-year-old German man, known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the murder of 300,000 people at the Nazi death camp, Reuters reported.

Betraying little emotion, white-haired Oskar Groening sat with his arms crossed, looking around the court room while the judge explained the verdict. After the hearing, he shuffled out of court, hunched over a walking frame with his head bowed.

He remains free until prosecutors decide whether he will serve his jail time or how much of it he will have to serve, the news agency said.

Groening did not kill anyone himself while working at the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, but by sorting bank notes seized from trainloads of arriving Jews he helped support the regime responsible for mass murder, prosecutors argued.

The trial in Lueneburg, Germany, went to the heart of the question of whether people who were minor participants in the Nazi regime, but did not actively participate in the killing of six million Jews during the Holocaust, were themselves guilty.

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

“Mr. Groening 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.”

The now frail Groening has admitted moral guilt but said it was up to the court to decide whether he was legally guilty.

He said earlier this month he could only ask God to forgive him as he was not entitled to ask this of victims of the Holocaust.

Angela Orosz-Richt, a Jew who was born in Auschwitz and a co-plaintiff in the court case, said the fact that the trial had been held and Groening 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.

If Groening decides not to appeal, the verdict takes legal effect and then prosecutors decide when, whether and where Groening would actually go to jail, a court spokeswoman said.

During his time at Auschwitz, Groening’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.

He was only 21 and, by his own admission, an enthusiastic Nazi when he was sent to work at the camp in 1942.

He 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.

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