Former Nazi camp guard argues ‘moral’ but not criminal guilt

(Transcript from World News Radio)


A former Nazi guard known as the Bookkeeper of Auschwitz has told a German court he’s “morally” guilty of being an accessory to the murder of at least 300 thousand Jews.



93-year-old Oskar Groening believes his moral guilt can be distinguished from being found guilty under the criminal law.


Groening has argued for years that from a legal viewpoint, he’s innocent and is now trying to convince a German court to accept that defence.


As Greg Dyett reports, the former Nazi SS guard began work at Auschwitz in 1942 when he was 21 years old.


(Click on audio tab to listen to this item)


In a 2005 BBC documentary, Oskar Groening offered this explanation for being a willing participant in the Holocaust.


(Trans) We were convinced by our world view that we had been betrayed by the entire world and that there was a great conspiracy of the Jews against us. (Reporter) But surely when it comes to children you must have realized that they couldn’t possibly have done anything to you? (Groening) “The children, they’re not the enemy at the moment, the enemy is the blood inside of them, the enemy is the growing up to be a Jew that could become dangerous and because of that the children were included as well.”


Groening’s job was to collect the belongings of people as they arrived at the camp and count the money confiscated from them.


He says he witnessed mass killings but denied a direct role in the genocide.


Addressing the judges he said “I ask for forgiveness. I share morally in the guilt but whether I am guilty under criminal law, you have to decide.”


Outside the court, Oskar Groening’s lawyer Hans Holtermann says his client is both repentant and humiliated.


“For Mr Groening of course it was very stressful, which is normal for his age, but he has expressed himself as much as it was possible for him, about his work in Auschwitz and in particular he has emphasised that he feels morally guilty, standing in front of the victims repentant and humiliated and that the court has to decide about the criminal conviction.”


Back in the 1980s, charges were brought against Groening but the prosecution case collapsed because of a lack of evidence of his personal involvement.


But following a recent ruling prosecutors are hoping that this time round they can get a conviction simply on the basis that Groening has admitted to working at the concentration camp.


Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor got to meet Groening at the court.


“He has a lot of difficulties physically and I’m sure emotionally and mentally. He thinks a lot of things he can’t remember. So I think that in one respect, maybe a man that old or functioning at that level, he is doing his very best. It’s a very long day for him.”


The lawyer representing the survivors, Thomas Walther says it’s encouraging Groening is fit enough to testify.


“Groening testifies, he is not playing the sick one, he is the same age as Demjanjuk [deceased accused Nazi guard], but he is not wearing a baseball cap and is not laying in bed and this is quite a positive signal for the further proceedings of this trial.”


If Groening is found guilty he could face up to 15 years in prison.




Europe on edge over Macedonian crisis

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Authorities in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have identified five men they say are leaders of an armed group planning to carry out imminent attacks.


22 people were killed, among them eight police officers, in a raid on the northern town of Kumanovo, which the government claims has neutralised the threat.

But as Kristina Kukolja reports, some fear the incident could deepen a political crisis that’s already putting Europe on edge.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Police in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have released fresh video footage from the weekend clashes that left a suburb of Kumanovo in ruins.

They say, when the dust settled, 14 suspected militants were found dead, and that number could still rise.

Of those who surrendered to Macedonian authorities, 30 have reportedly been charged.

Police have identified by name five of the men they allege were the most prominent leaders of the group, revealing them to all be citizens of neighbouring Kosovo.

In a statement to SBS, the Macedonian Embassy in Canberra said their suspected followers came from both sides of the border.

“In the past several years, its members were involved in a number of attacks. Among the members of the group there are citizens from (the) Republic of Kosovo and Republic of Macedonia. According to the interrogation, some of them confirm that the group started entering the country at the beginning of the month, preparing in mid May to assault state institutions and civilian infrastructure.”

The statement describes them as one of the most dangerous criminal groups, with political ambitions in the region.

It goes on to say that, late last month, some of their members attacked a Macedonian police post on the Kosovo border.

And apparently, at least four of them were in Kumanovo.

The Macedonian government insists the violence was not ethnically motivated, as was the case more than a decade earlier.

Still, Serbia has moved to reinforce its southern border with Macedonia.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic old the Euronews service, his country wants to help.

“To help them out to overcome these bumps on the road and to create a stable environment in their country. And whatever they think we might be helpful, we’ll deliver on it, because that is the most important issue for all of us. If we’ll have riots and unrest in Macedonia it might easily spill over to the other areas of the Western Balkans.”

Developments out of Kumanovo were closely followed by the resignations of Macedonia’s interior minister and intelligence agency head.

The two are apparently unrelated; the latter linked, rather, to serious allegations of abuse of power being made against the government.

Earlier this year the opposition began releasing to the media audio recordings of allegedly wiretapped conversations, which if true would suggest interference in the judiciary, media, elections and public sector appointments.

Protests on the streets of the capital Skopje have been growing, and the European Union increasingly pressing for Macedonia’s leadership to address the allegations.

And while some supporters of the government accuse demonstrators of merely opposing its conservative agenda, activist Jasmina Golubovska tells Al Jazeera that argument misses the point.

“This is not a situation where a right wing government, specially with indication that it likes to establish a free market, is under attack. This is a very grave situation where we the citizens got information on how the government controls society. We are discussing a grave breach of people’s freedoms, especially of the voters’ rights, of their security, their wellbeing, and mostly privacy. No one feels safe in this country regardless of the source of information.”





The fight to preserve Elfdalian, Sweden’s lost forest language

Guus Kroonen, University of Copenhagen

When I visited the remote Swedish town of Älvdalen in the spring of 2013, I was immediately struck by the tranquil splendour of the undulating, forest-covered valley in which it is situated.


The river Österdalälv, which runs to the valley and has given it its name, was still partly frozen, and the gleaming ice resonated with the last patches of snow that were strewn across the landscape. Here, in this Swedish Shangri-La, I was set to meet the last speakers of Elfdalian, a tiny and well-hidden linguistic gem that only very few know about.

Elfdalian (älvdalska in Swedish and övdalsk in the language itself) sounds like something you would more likely encounter in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings rather than in a remote Swedish forest. But the small town of Älvdalen, which gives the language its name, is not an Elven outpost. It is one of the last strongholds of an ancient tongue that preserves much of Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. And it is now set to be taught in the town’s preschools for the first time in September, marking a small victory for a group campaigning for its preservation.

Elfdalian is currently used only by about 2,500 people, but is a treasure trove for linguists. Hidden between the trees and hills, it has preserved linguistic features that are to be found nowhere else in Scandinavia, and that had already disappeared from Old Norse by 1200AD.

Unique among Nordic languages

Elfdalian has, for instance, preserved nasal vowels that disappeared elsewhere. Nasal vowels are well-known from French, as in un bon vin blanc (“a good white wine”), but not from the modern Nordic languages. In Old Norse, nasal vowels are only found in a single manuscript from 12th-century Iceland, but linguists never thought much of it – until it was discovered that modern day Elfdalian has nasal vowels in the exact same words.

The Nativity of Jesus in Elfdalian, by Lena Willemark, a famous Swedish musician from Älvdalen.

Because of its relative isolation, Elfdalian evolved in an entirely different direction than the modern Scandinavian languages. Its sounds, grammar and vocabulary differ radically from Swedish. So, while speakers of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian can easily understand each other in simple conversations, Elfdalian is completely unintelligible to Swedes who are not from the area.

For centuries, it was unnecessary for the majority of the native Elfdalian-speaking population to learn standard Swedish, as the economic networks were locally-oriented and there was no compulsory schooling in Swedish until the mid-1800s. As a result, Elfdalian remained a vigorous language until well into the 20th century.

The situation changed dramatically in the past century, however. With increased mobility and the arrival of mass media, Elfdalian came under threat from Swedish, which steadily encroached upon more and more aspects of daily life. Speakers of the language were stigmatised, and children were actively discouraged to use it at school. As a result, speakers of Elfdalian shifted to Swedish in droves, especially in the past couple of decades. At present, only half of the inhabitants of Älvdalen speak it, and of the youngest generation, only about 60 children under the age of 15 are fluent.

Moving into preschool

During my visit in Älvdalen, I was very lucky to be introduced to a group of language activists united under the name Ulum Dalska (“We need to speak Elfdalian”). Attempts are being made by these local enthusiasts to revitalise the language that means so much to them. An orthography, detailing how to speak the language, was devised in 2004, consisting of 35 letters, including nasalised vowels. It was used to publish several children’s books, such as a translation of “Le Petit Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The association also annually awards language stipends to pupils who are particularly fluent in Elfdalian.


Lisslprinsn, The Little Prince in Elfdalian. Translated by Bo Westling.


After many years of action, Ulum Dalska has also recently been successful at convincing the local authorities to start up an Elfdalian-speaking group at the local preschool. This means that, for the first time in history, Elfdalian has made its official entry into the Swedish schooling system.

Though nothing short of a break-through, more radical measures are likely to be required to permanently secure the future of Elfdalian. Researchers have, for instance, suggested introducing bilingual programmes to primary schools, by which pupils are immersed in Elfdalian, and Swedish is only taught as a separate subject.

Fight for minority language status

The funding required for such programmes is too considerable to be released by the small community of Älvdalen. A permanent solution would be to grant Elfdalian the status of a regional or minority language as defined by the Council of Europe. Despite repeated requests by Ulum Dalska, the Swedish government has so far been reluctant to do so, however. It maintains that Elfdalian is a dialect, despite a growing consensus among linguists that it has all characteristics of a separate language.

Älvdalen, home of Elfdalian. Guus Kroonen, Author provided


Nevertheless, language awareness is on the rise, both in Älvdalen and in the outside world. There is a very active Facebook group, where many speakers are starting to write in Elfdalian for the first time in their lives. Earlier this month, I co-organised an international conference on Elfdalian, which sparked worldwide media attention. The annual summer school is expected to attract a record number of participants consisting of both native speakers and linguists.

On the whole, more and more people seem to be convinced of the preciousness of Elfdalian and the need to preserve if for future generations. And in a globalising world, the right attitude is perhaps the most important step towards a full language revival.

Guus Kroonen does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Busy McIlroy returns to scene of first U.S. win

McIlroy announced his arrival to an admiring American audience when he shot a final round 62 at Quail Hollow in 2010, a year after his first professional win at the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic.


He has played the PGA Tour event every year since, finishing outside the top-10 only once with a missed cut in 2011.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago (2010) but great to be back,” McIlroy told reporters after playing in Wednesday’s pro-am with Grace Vaughan, a 16-year-old with a blood disorder who won an essay contest to play with any professional of her choosing.

McIlroy opted to compete this week but his busy schedule means he will reluctantly miss the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial tournament in early June, two weeks before the U.S. Open.

The Northern Irish world number one loves the event at Muirfield Village in Ohio so much that he wrote Nicklaus a letter to apologise for his absence.

By coincidence, he then met Nicklaus on Monday at the Bears Club in Florida, where they both have their primary residence.

“The first thing he (Nicklaus) said to me was that he’d received my letter and I said to him I wanted to write rather than phone or just advise the tour. He seemed pretty taken back to get my letter and that made me feel good,” McIlroy, 26, said.

The four-time major winner heads a strong field at Quail Hollow that includes nine of the world’s top 20.


Australia’s former world number one Adam Scott felt the course was set up well and that low scores would be possible, but not guaranteed.

“It’s not soft. It’s not firm. It’s just nice,” the Australian said while patiently signing hundreds of autographs on his way from the 18th green to the clubhouse.

The tournament is being played two weeks later in the schedule this year and American Webb Simpson, who lives adjacent to the seventh hole, believes the later time slot has helped the course condition after a wretched February of snow and ice.

“The course has appreciated a couple more weeks,” Simpson said. “The course is beautiful and the greens super fast.

“Even if this place wasn’t my home, I would still have this as one of my top courses of the year.”

Strong though the field is, few regular PGA Tour events attract all the big names and this week is no exception.

Among those missing are Tiger Woods, Masters champion Jordan Spieth and Players Championship winner Rickie Fowler.

(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)

You’re not crazy: Recovery from trauma is different for everybody

Jeannie D DiClementi, Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne

(A woman is comforted after explosions went off at the Boston Marathon, April 15, 2013.


Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

The very public trials of the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the Colorado theater shooting suspect, James Holmes, put images and stories about these traumatic events once again in front of the public.

During both phases of the Boston Marathon bombing trial, testimony from survivors and first responders, as well as graphic images of the bombing, were front and center on television, the internet, and print media. And survivors of the Colorado theater shooting have vividly described in their trial testimony that night in detail and their terror and anguish seeing loved ones next to them dead or dying.

So what are the psychological and health effects of exposure to traumatic events like these?

What is trauma?

Traumatic events are those experiences that are perceived to be threats to one’s safety or stability and that cause physical, emotional and psychological stress or harm. In other words, these are events that fall outside the range of normal human experience and to which reactions vary according to the individual person.

Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association as the psychological and emotional responses to those terrible events.

Traumatic events aren’t always violent. They can range from moving somewhere new to a mass disaster or even war.

For most people, trauma is experienced during and immediately after the event. But for many, the trauma may be relived for months or even years, as has been the case, for instance, with the aftereffects of the September 11 attacks.

Common psychological and emotional reactions to traumatic events include intense emotions, nightmares and flashbacks, eating and sleeping disturbances, panic reactions to smells or sudden noises, relationship problems, irritability and physical symptoms. While it may feel like you are going crazy, it’s important to remember that these are normal reactions to abnormal and traumatic experiences.

There is also evidence that one doesn’t have to be directly exposed to the traumatic event to be affected by it. Research has demonstrated that negative psychological and emotional effects can occur with media exposure.

For instance, millions of people watched repeated television coverage and graphic images from September 11. A 2013 study found that people who watched media reports of the attacks experienced post-traumatic stress and physical health symptoms for years afterward.


(Recovery happens at a different pace for everyone. In this photo, the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Brian Snyder/Reuters)


People don’t recover from trauma in the same way

As a crisis counselor after the Columbine High School shootings in April 1999, I witnessed those effects firsthand. In the hours and days after the shootings, we provided emergency crisis intervention not only to students who had been trapped in the school, but to family members, even to neighbors of the victims.

And in the following weeks and months, people who had watched the events unfold on television came in for counseling due to nightmares, elevated anxiety, depression – all attributed to the images they witnessed in the media. These included not only people who lived in the Littleton, Colorado area near the high school, but people from all over the metropolitan Denver area.

Over the next few years, I was teaching at a local university campus in Denver and had several former Columbine students in my classes. They had graduated from school, but never fully recovered from the trauma of that day. Sudden noises from the hall caused them to jump. A fire alarm set off during one class period caused some to panic, but not all.

This is also normal. Not everyone has the same reaction to trauma, or recovers in the same way, or in a set time frame. Research has shown that there is wide variability in recovery from trauma, with few indications as to who will recover relatively quickly and who will not.

A person’s coping strategies – how we deal with adverse situations – may be one of the ways people protect themselves, provided of course, that the coping behaviors themselves are positive. These can include talking to a supportive friend, joining a support group, allowing time to adjust and reestablishing routines.

Poor coping responses such as giving up, denial and avoiding talking about the event are associated with a poorer recovery from trauma. This can mean more negative symptoms such as continued depression, flashbacks, emotional numbing and difficulty with relationships.

It is not unusual for victims to find themselves eventually getting divorced after a trauma, for example, because they have become distant from or even abusive toward their spouse. If a person had a tendency toward depression or other mental health issues before the traumatic event occurred, that can have an effect on how well he or she recovers from the trauma.


(A sign welcomes guests at the reopening and remembrance of the Century Aurora Theater in Aurora, Colorado January 17, 2013, where suspect James Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 70 others on July 20, 2012. RJ Sangosti/Pool/Reuters)

New trauma can bring back old memories

In addition, people with histories of previous trauma such as combat veterans may be more vulnerable to the effects of new traumatic events.

In a study of military veterans affected by the Boston Marathon bombing, researchers found that many of the veterans reported flashbacks to combat experiences, elevated anxiety, psychological numbness, nightmares and heightened anger.

I have heard stories from students and therapy clients about traumatic events in the news suddenly reminding them of events that happened many years in the past.

One student, upon seeing the media coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting, told me he couldn’t understand why he was suddenly remembering the time his dog was run over by a car in front of him when he was seven. He reported that he experienced his memory of his dog’s death “like it just happened only yesterday.” These seemingly unconnected events may have been connected in his memory by the same emotional reaction to each events.

How can people cope with trauma?

What, then, can people do to alleviate the negative aftereffects of such events in order to return to their normal daily lives? The American Psychological Association recommends making connections with others, accepting change, meeting problems head on and taking care of yourself.

It’s also important to remember that one never completely forgets such events, nor do professionals suggest that is the goal of recovery. Healthy recovery involves acknowledging that the events were terrible but at the same time not allowing them to interfere with daily living. Even if, 10 years later, a sudden noise triggers momentary fear.

I encourage people to seek professional help if the effects become overwhelming. These are not only common sense recommendations; they are backed by decades of research.

Remember that recovery is not easy but it is possible, and that those emotional and psychological reactions are normal responses to abnormal situations.

Jeannie D DiClementi does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.