Trial of ‘Accountant of Auschwitz’ Begins Today
Today in Lüneburg, the trial of the 93-year-old Oskar Gröning, a former SS officer who served in the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, has begun. He is charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder.
Deutsche Welle reports that he served with the SS there from September 1942 to October 1944, and was responsible for managing the money and valuables of the murdered – hence his nickname the “accountant of Auschwitz” in the media. He proclaimed himself innocent. “I killed no one, I was just a small cog in the killing machine. I was not a perpetrator,” he said in 2005.
The charges have been limited to the so-called “Hungarian Operation,” for “legal and evidence reasons.” The operation took place between May 16 and July 11, 1944. During that two-month period the SS deported about 425,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. Some 300,000 of these were led directly to the gas chambers and murdered.
A total of 137 train transports arrived at the Nazi death factory during that period. Gröning worked at the platforms. He was there when prisoners were divided into groups of “fit for work,” or “useless.” He knew that those who were “sorted out” were not going to the fake showers to be “disinfected,” but that they would be put to death immediately.
One of the SS man’s responsibilities was to collect baggage left on the platform by those who had been led away. “The traces of mass murder were to be erased before successive prisoners arrived,” the 85-page indictment reads. Gröning was also instructed to count money found in the baggage, sort it, and then send it to Berlin. The indictment reads that through his actions he supported the systematic murder perpetrated by the Nazi regime.
This trial “comes decades too late,” says Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee. “The accused lived the most important decades of his life in peace and in freedom in the heart of society.“
Until recently, the legal premise was that each perpetrator had to be proven to have committed a specific crime. This precedence changed with a Munich court’s decision in the trial of John Demjanjuk. In 2011, the now deceased former guard at the Sobibor death camp was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of more than 28,000 Jews – although his direct participation could not be proven.
So far the Lüneburg court has slated 27 days for the trial. The verdict is to be handed down at the end of July. More than 60 co-plaintiffs will testify, travelling from the United States, Hungary, Canada, and Israel. They are former prisoners and relatives of those who died in Auschwitz-Birkenau.