'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz' To Go on Trial Tuesday

Former Auschwitz, SS guard Oskar Groening, 93, will start trial in Germany Tuesday on charges of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder.

Cynthia Blank,

Auschwitz "Work Sets You Free"
Auschwitz "Work Sets You Free"
Thinkstock

The trial of 93-year-old former SS guard Oskar Groening for 300,000 counts of accessory to murder will begin Tuesday at a state court in the northern German city of Lueneberg. 

His is the first trial that will test a new kind of legal reasoning by German prosecutors, AP reported, in which anyone who was a guard at a death camp can be tried for accessory to murder, even without evidence of involvement in specific killings. 

Although Groening has openly admitted serving as an SS officer in death camp Auschwitz in Poland, he denies committing any crimes. 

According to Groening, he volunteered for the SS in 1940, and was transferred to Auschwitz in 1942, where he was assigned "ramp duty" - taking luggage away from Jewish prisoners who arrived at the death camp. 

Though the acknowledgement that he served at Auschwitz could help mitigate the 15-year maximum sentence he faces, the court's focus will primarily be on whether Groening can legally be found an accessory to murder for his actions at the camp. 

Specifically, Groening is accused of serving at the death camp between May and June 1944, when some 425,000 Hungarian Jews were deported there, with 300,000 of them almost immediately gassed. 

At this time, Groening was working at collecting and counting the money found in the belonging of camp victims. This job has earned him the moniker "the bookkeeper of Auschwitz" in German media. 

"He helped the Nazi regime benefit economically," the indictment against him read, "and supported the systematic killings."

The head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, concurred with the indictment's assessment, arguing that even the lowest-ranking guards were necessary for the Nazi genocidal machine to work. 

"The system that the Nazis put in place in order to annihilate the Jewish people and the others they classified as enemies was made up of all sorts of people who fulfilled all sorts of tasks," Zuroff told AP.

"Obviously Oskar Groening is not as guilty as (SS head) Heinrich Himmler... but he contributed his talents to helping the system carry out mass murder."

Some 60 Holocaust survivors and victims' relatives from Israel, the United States, Canada, and other countries and will be represented as co-plaintiffs to the German prosecutors in the trial. 




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