'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz' Describes 'Orderly' Camp

"Everything happened in an orderly fashion," says former SS officer Oskar Groening at his trial in Germany.

Ben Ariel,

Oskar Groening (L) with his lawyer
Oskar Groening (L) with his lawyer
Reuters

The trial of German former SS officer Oskar Groening, dubbed the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz", heard horrific descriptions Wednesday of the Nazi death camp, from prisoners' arrivals to grisly "medical" experiments, reported AFP.

"Everything happened in an orderly fashion," the 93-year-old Groening calmly told the judges on the second day of the hearing, expected to be among the last of its kind given the advanced age of most Nazi war crimes suspects.

Groening, who is on trial for 300,000 counts of "accessory to murder" in the cases of deported Hungarian Jews sent to the gas chambers between May and July 1944, was pressed on how the camp was organized.

The court in the northern city of Lueneburg near Hamburg probed his alleged complicity in the deaths after the opening day Tuesday heard how he had volunteered for the SS four years earlier.

Groening, who begged "forgiveness" for his "moral guilt" but contests legal culpability, described three occasions of "ramp duty" at the spot where deportees arrived by rail at the extermination and forced labor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

He was stationed at Birkenau, known as Auschwitz II, about three kilometers (two miles) from the main camp, which had three rail tracks leading up to it, meaning it could host three arriving convoys at the same time.

"It was a bit turbulent because the area was not very big," he told a hushed courtroom, according to AFP.

Prosecutors said Groening served as a bookkeeper, who sorted and counted the money taken from those killed, collecting cash in different currencies from across Europe to fill the coffers in Berlin.

 They also say that, during "ramp duty", he guarded luggage stolen from deportees on their arrival.

Groening, who faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted, painted a picture of a well-managed triage at Birkenau, which was "very orderly and not as strenuous as it was on the ramp at Auschwitz-I".

Jewish deportees arrived in cattle wagons filled with up to 85 people. Two doctors would inspect them "visually" to determine "who was fit for work and who was unfit for work", he said.

"The only difference with Auschwitz I is that there were no trucks to transport. They all walked," Groening said, adding that further on were gas chambers and crematoria.

Asked about the reaction of new arrivals, he replied, "They had no idea what was going on." But as Nazi operations in Hungary progressed, "it changed, depending on what city they came from".

"Some suspected something and the others didn't suspect anything," he said.

In recent years, Germany has begun a crackdown on Nazi war criminals. The crackdown began following the 2011 Munich trial of John Demjanjuk, a Nazi war criminal charged of assisting in the murder of 28,060 people at the Sobibor death camp and sentenced to five years. The former Nazi died in 2012.

Shortly after announcing Groening’s trial this past February, Germany charged a 93-year-old man, who was not identified, with 170,000 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served as an SS guard at the Auschwitz death camp.




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