(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.
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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.