‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz’ Admits ‘Moral Guilt’ as Trial Begins

April 21, 2015  

A former SS guard nicknamed “The Bookkeeper of Auschwitz” has admitted his “moral guilt” at the start of his landmark trial in Poland Tuesday.

93-year-old Oskar Groening is being tried for accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 Jews at the Nazi death camp, and could face up to 15 years if convicted.

He admits to having worked as a guard at the camp but denies any role in the holocaust itself.

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

At the same time, he is also likely to be one of the last suspected Nazi war criminals to be tried for their part in the genocide, as most remaining suspects are, like Groening, in their 90s.

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. 

During that time, Groening was working at collecting and counting the money found in the belonging of camp victims – a job which 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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