Oskar Groening, 93, has been charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder during his time as a guard at a concentration camp in Auschwitz in a German-occupied Poland from May to June 1944. According to historical reports, about 425,000 Jews were brought there from Hungary and 300,000 of them were gassed to death upon arrival at the camp.
In addition to the accessory to murder charge, Groening also allegedly collected money found from the victims. At the concentration camp, there were at least 1.1 million deaths and 90 percent of them were Jewish.
In a statement, Hannover prosecutors said that Groening “helped the Nazi regime benefit economically, and supported the systematic killings.”
Groening was never charged after the war, as a tribunal cleared his involvement in 1948. However, he has talked openly about the time he spent in Auschwitz as a guard, but denied being involved in the killings that occurred. In fact, he shared some of his experiences in a 2005 interview with Der Spiegel magazine.
“I saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs. He smashed the baby’s head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.”
Groening is just one of the 30 Auschwitz guards who are being investigated due to the new precedent in German law, The Guardian reports. Some of those who are under investigation are even beyond Germany’s borders. Though Groening says that he witnessed killings firsthand, he said that he is innocent in the 2005 interview.
“Accomplice would almost be too much for me. I would describe my role as a ‘small cog in the gears.’ If you can describe that as guilt, then I am guilty, but not voluntarily. Legally speaking, I am innocent.”
In the interview, he also recounted the first time he actually saw Jews being gassed. He said that there were more than 100 prisoners that were asked to go into the gas chamber and the door was closed, The Daily Mail reports.
“Then a sergeant with a gas mask went to a hole in the wall and from a tin shook Zyklon B gas pellets inside. In that moment the cries of the people inside rose to a crescendo, a choir of madness. These cries I have ringing in my ears to this day.”
Groening is the fourth case investigated. Two of the cases have been tossed because the suspects were considered unfit for trial, while one was closed after the suspect died. Hand Holtermann, Groening’s attorney, said that his client is in good health.
Judges in the city of Lueneburg will be deciding whether a court case for Groening will be opened and the details of if and when his trial will begin. If the trial pushes through, Groening will be the first former Auschwitz guard to stand trial in decades in a German court.
[Images via The Guardian / A Vida No Front]