Nazi war crime trial with a difference


Oskar Groening is no ordinary war crime suspect.

The so-called "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz", who counted and passed on money gathered from Jewish prisoners at the death camp, went on trial this week accused of being an accomplice to 300,000 murders.

The 93-year-old admitted he was "morally guilty" as he appeared before almost 70 Holocaust survivors and the relatives of victims in a court in the German city of Lueneburg on Tuesday.

"Whether I am guilty under criminal law, you will have to decide," he told the court.

The widowed father of two has rarely shied away from his role at the camp. A decade ago he told the BBC documentary Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution': "I see it as my task now, at my age, to face up to these things that I experienced, and to oppose the Holocaust deniers who claim that Auschwitz never happened. I saw the crematoria, I saw the burning pits."

The world's most prominent Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, told the Wall Street Journal last year that Groening was the first suspect in recent history who "has talked publicly about the horrors of Auschwitz; that's something you almost never see".

Groening was at the camp between May and July 1944 when 300,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed.

He claims to have questioned the atrocities taking place around him and told the court he had confronted a soldier who killed a baby on his first day there. An application to move to a different camp had been rejected by Nazi bosses.

A self-confessed enthusiastic Nazi, he told Der Spiegel that when he was young he sang: "When Jewish blood begins to drip from our knives, things will be good again.

"Back then we didn't even think about what we were singing," he admitted. In the camp he viewed the genocide as "a tool of waging war. A war with advanced methods".

Prosecutors accuse Groening of "supporting the machinery of death". Since 2011 German courts have allowed defendants to be charged with complicity in the Holocaust even without evidence that they directly committed murder.

Groening's is the first such case to go to trial. If convicted, he faces between three and 15 years in prison. The case is due to continue until late July.

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