Friday 29 May 2020


Prior to and during the Second World War, the German Nazis murdered six or more million Jews. Most of them were murdered by gassing in extermination camps in Nazi occupied Poland.

This article is about an accountant in one of the extermination camps.

of the 6,500 SS guards that served at  the extermination camp called Auschwitz, where 1.1 million Jews were murdered between 1940 and 1945,however  only 49 were subsequently prosecuted in Germany during the Nuremberg Trials. They were convicted and hanged.

Seventy years later, a new generation of prosecutors decided to re-open investigations against ageing Nazi guards. Although by this time many of these men had died however there was evidence to suggest at least two of the Nazis were still alive. The hunt was on for one of them who was the camp’s accountant, German SS officer Oskar Gröning who was 21 years old when he worked at Auschwitz as the camp’s accountant.

 Gröning was tasked with collecting the property of prisoners as they were taken off the trains at the camp. He would have no direct contact with Jews. 

He was eventually located  and charged with the complicity in the murder of 300,000 Jews.

His defence was “I was just a “small cog in the large machine. After all, just being a member of a large group of people who lived in a garrison where the destruction of the Jews took place doesn’t make me a war criminal.”

I want to point out that this man was not directly responsible for the deaths of any of those Jews who were murdered at the camp.

For years, Groening tried to draw as little attention to his past as possible to the crimes he witnessed. He largely succeeded until later in his life, he started to speak up against those crimes committed against the Jews.

He stated, “We obviously knew that the things that had happened there did not necessarily comply with human rights,” he told PBS for the documentary “Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State.

Perhaps it was guilt, or a bid for exoneration, or a shrewd strategy to turn the horror of his past into currency that could redeem his future. But Groening was stoic and often brutally forthcoming about what he witnessed at that Nazi death camp, and he came to be known as one of the few living SS officers willing to speak up against Holocaust denials.

His willingness to publically tell the people what really went on in the extermination camp was as silly as an unknown rapist who publically tells everyone what it is like to rape  a woman. Groening’s willingness for publicity was the cheese in a trap that was waiting to clamp  down  on him. 

At the age of 93, now nearing the end of his life, he would finally find out whether the law was on his side and would find him not responsible for what happened at that camp when he was only the camp’s accountant while the Jews were being murdered.

uring the first day of court proceedings in Lueneburg, Germany, sitting before an audience that included Holocaust survivors, Groening admitted a profoundly important truth.

“I share morally in the guilt,” he said at the outset of his testimony, according to the BBC. He asked “for forgiveness.”
“But whether I am guilty under criminal law, you will have to decide,” he said.

Auschwitz survivor Hedy Bohm, and her daughter, Vicky Bohm, leave the court during a break in the trial.

Groening has evaded prosecution in the past. According to the BBC, charges were dropped against him in the 1980s because prosecutors determined that there wasn’t enough evidence of his personal involvement in the killings.

But in 2011, according to the BBC, a critical court ruling set a new precedent that paved the way for Groening and others to be charged as accomplices — even if they might not have actually carried out the murders themselves.

 “It is a black stain on Germany’s map,” Christoph Heubner, the executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, told NBC News. “The culprits were welcomed in the midst of society, and the general public kept silent. Groening was a wheel in the murder machine of Auschwitz and therefore also he had blood on his hands. I will explain why that point is right  with a similar scenario.

Four men plan a robbery of a jewelry store.  One man has a real gun and it is aimed at the manager of the st0re.  The  second man who also enters the store has a fake gun to keep the customers from leaving the store. The third man is the driver of the getaway car. The forth man is the man who is going to buy the stolen gems from the man with the gun at a discount.

The manager reaches for the phone and the man with the gun shoots the manager and he is killed immediately.

The killer, the other man in the store and the driver flee to the home of the man who is going to buy the gems at a discount from  the killer.

 All four men are arrested and during their trials, the three men who didn’t kill the manager claim that they are not directly   responsible for the manager’s death.

That argument is correct.  However, they were jointly responsible for the death of the manager because the robbery was a joint venture that they each participated in it and as such, they  are collectively responsible for the manager’s death. The sentences of the three men who didn’t shoot the manager would be less than  that  of the man who shot the manager  dead. 

Groening’s trial puts that idea to an important test: Does counting the stolen money of Jewish prisoners make someone complicit in their murders? By standing watch over their belongings, is he just as guilty as a guard who kept them locked in their quarters?

Those complex legal questions wwould be answered in the proceedings

“By sorting the bank notes, he helped the Nazi regime to benefit economically,” said Jens Lehmann, who is representing the plaintiffs who are Auschwitz survivors or relatives of victims, according to Reuters.

Groening is now a widowed father of two who moves around with the help of a walker and is hard of hearing. During the Holocaust, he was assigned to work at Auschwitz before he knew of the horrors that occurred there. But he wasn’t an unwitting participant: Eager to rise in the Nazi ranks, he threw himself into the “bookkeeping” job that he had been given.

Between May and June 1944 more than 300,000 Jews were gassed to death. In that time, Groening constructed in his own mind ways of rationalizing the atrocities going on all around him.

The money and bank notes he handled didn’t belong to the Jewish prisoners; it was “money without owners,” he told Der Spiegel in 2005.

Groening believed in Adolf Hitler and agreed with him that winning the war required the extermination of Jews. That statement is proof that he couldn’t care less as to the fact that the millions of Jews were murdered in the Nazi extermination camps. 

He  said,  “That it was a tool of waging war. A war with advanced methods Unfortunately, it just happens to be the case that they took to this camp where the things that everyone was cheering about were actually happening. And then, at some point you are there and the only thing left is the feeling: I am part of this necessary thing. A horrible thing but necessary.”

, Groening repeated the appalling stories he had told matter-of-factly in the past. He spoke of witnessing an SS officer murder a small Jewish baby whose cries annoyed the officer.

He talked about participating in — no, witnessing, he said, correcting himself — the gassing of Jewish prisoners, according to Reuters

He also told of an incident in late 1942 when he witnessed naked Jews being herded into a converted farm house near the camp. A fellow officer shut the door, put on a gas mask, opened a can and poured its contents down a hatch.

He said that the “screams became louder and more desperate but after a short time they became quieter again,”

He said “This is the only time I participated in a gassing,” he added, before correcting himself: “I don’t mean participated, I mean observed.”

Groening may be one of the last Nazis to stand trial for Holocaust crimes. He faced up to 15 years in prison. He was actually sentence to four years in prison. He died in prison at the age of 96.

No survivor, and for that matter no one, should conclude that at least the ones who took part in inflicting such unspeakable suffering should be allowed to evade justice merely because of their prolonged success in eluding detection. 

In addition, there is also an important reason to pursue the Nazi criminals and that is to help prevent the repetition of such ghastly crimes.

The Nazi prosecutions send an unmistakable warning to would-be perpetrators that if they dare to act and commit mass murder there is no real chance for them to get away scot-free.”

I don’t know if there are any more former Nazi criminals still alive and unpunished but if they are still alive, they have to be in their nineties by now.  

No comments: