Auschwitz SS guard fit for Holocaust trial

Slovak deportations - first foriegn Jews to be sent to Auschwitz in early 1942. Picture: BBC
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PROSECUTORS in Germany have pronounced 92 year old former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening fit to stand trial for his role in mass murder at the Second World War death factory where 1.1 million were slaughtered in the Nazi Holocaust.

Groening was an SS unterscharfuehrer – sergeant – in the camp with, he claims, responsibility for guarding the possessions of the doomed arrivals as they stepped off the trains which brought them to the complex in occupied Poland.

He was never punished after the war for his service in Auschwitz and claims he committed no crimes there.

Now 92, German media reported yesterday prosecutors in Hanover have closed their preliminary investigation and judged him fit to stand trial.

Groening is one of three men being investigated, but it is understood two other elderly guards from Lower Saxony are too frail to face trial.

Thomas Klinge, senior state prosecutor, confirmed: “The examination of the health status and the ability to negotiate a trial of the three accused is largely completed.”

Groening, who lives near the Luneburg Heath – where SS chief Heinrich Himmler was buried in an unmarked grave after taking his own life when he fell into British hands at the end of the war – has appointed a lawyer who has received notification that the authorities are proceeding against him, according to the Bild newspaper.

Groening worked in the Nazis’ foremost extermination camp for more than two-and-a-half years and has lived a comfortable life ever since.

He spoke at trials after the war of the operations of the gas chambers and crematoria but denied direct involvement.

A 1948 tribunal cleared him of war crimes and he began work as the manager of a glass factory. But he claims he remained traumatised by his time at the death camp.

“Every night and every day I remember it for the nightmare it was,” he said in an interview. “It was in 1942 that my SS chiefs in Berlin ordered me there.

“I was an official in the prisoners’ possessions administration which involved removing the money, jewels and other valuables from inmates, registering it and sending it back to Berlin.

“They had diamonds and gold worth millions and it was my duty to make sure all of it got to Berlin.

“It was completely understood by all that the majority were going straight to the gas chamber, although some believed they were only going to be showered before going to work. Many Jews knew they were going to die.

“One time a drunken SS man discovered a crying baby on the platform. He grabbed the waif by its legs and smashed its head against the side of a truck. My blood froze when I saw it.

“I went to my superior officers and made an application for a transfer to the front, to anywhere. But he refused.

“Down the years I have heard the cries of the dead in my dreams and in every waking moment. I will never be free of them.”

He said he made an application for a transfer and at the end of October 1944 was shipped to the Ardennes forest in Belgium where he fought the Allies until his capture.

He added: “I have never been back there because of my shame. This guilt will never leave me. I can only plead for forgiveness and pray for atonement.”

The conviction of former Sobibor extermination camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk in 2011 paved the way for this last push to bring old Nazis to justice.

Demjanjuk was convicted of taking part in the murders of over 28,000 Dutch Jews in the camp in 1943.

There were no witnesses and no evidence about what his role was in the camp, but justices decided that it was enough that he was there and part of the murder machine.

Demjanjuk died in 2012 while on bail as he appealed his five year jail term.

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