‘Accountant of Auschwitz’ Sentenced to 4 Years in Prison
Oskar Groening had always said he was “a cog” in the Nazi killing machine. He had been 21 years old when he was employed as a bookkeeper at the notorious concentration camp Auschwitz, responsible for cataloging the cash and valuables pulled from the luggage of newly arrived prisoners.
“If you can describe that as guilt, then I am guilty, but not voluntarily. Legally speaking, I am innocent,” he told Der Spiegel in 2005.
But on Tuesday, three months into the trial at which he stood accused of being an accessory to 300,000 murders, the now 94-year-old Groening appeared to have a change of heart.
Prosecutor Cornelius “Nestler said that Auschwitz was a place where you could not simply take part. I agree with that,” he said. “I sincerely regret that I did not recognize that earlier. I am truly sorry.”
The German judge overseeing his case seemed to agree. On Wednesday morning, Groening was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison, six months more than prosecutors had asked for, according to Deustch Welle.
Throughout the trial, Groening had been brutally forthright about what he witnessed and took part in during his time at Auschwitz, between May and July 1944. He told the courtroom of his first day on the ramp where Jewish prisoners were herded off the transport trains, according to Reuters. An SS colleague grabbed a crying baby and slammed its head against a truck until it went silent.
“I was so shaken. I don’t find what he did good at all,” Groening said.
He also described seeing naked Jews herded into a converted farm house in late 1942. When the doors were closed, a fellow officer opened a can of gas and poured its contents down a hatch.
“The screams became louder and more desperate but after a short time they became quieter again,” Groening said.
“This is the only time I participated in a gassing,” he added, before correcting himself: “I don’t mean participated, I mean observed.”
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Sarah Kaplan