Auschwitz guard, 93, to stand trial
He will almost certainly go down in history as the last Nazi death camp guard to face justice. Yet 93-year-old Oskar Gröning says he merely worked as an “accountant” in Auschwitz and feels duty-bound to confront those who claim the Holocaust never happened.
After decades of legal inaction, Gröning is to face charges of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Auschwitz prisoners while he worked at the camp. On Tuesday, Hanover state prosecutors ruled he was fit to stand trial.
Gröning's trial opens in a German court next April.
His case highlights the failure of the German judiciary adequately to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice since the end of the Second World War. An estimated 1.2 million were murdered at Auschwitz. Some 6,500 SS guards worked at the camp but only 49 have been convicted of war crimes.
EfraimZuroff, chief Nazi hunter at the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said he welcomed the decision to prosecute Gröning. “The passage of time does not diminish the crimes of the Holocaust,” he told The Independent.
Gröning was one in a line-up of a so-called “dirty dozen” of surviving Auschwitz guards who have been identified over the past two years. He is the only one to face trial. Charges against the remaining 11 suspects were dropped because they were considered too frail or ill.
In the decades after the Nuremberg trials, German prosecutors relied almost exclusively on evidence, largely from eyewitnesses, that linked suspects to specific murders in order to convict them. The practice explains the low conviction rate of Nazi death camp guards. It took a new generation of prosecutors to bring about the recent change in the German judiciary's attitude to Nazi war crimes. In 2011 they set a legal precedent by securing the conviction of the former Sobibor Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk by a Munich court.
Demjanjuk was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of 28,000 Dutch Jews at Sobibor, an “extermination-only” camp in Nazi occupied Poland, in which all prisoners were gassed within hours of their arrival. There were no eyewitnesses at Demjanjuk's trial. But judges for the first time accepted the prosecution's argument he was an accessory to mass murder simply by having worked as a guard at the camp. Prosecutors will use the same legal arguments at Gröning's trial. However Gröning has already denied the charges.