Oskar Groening was a former SS soldier for the Nazi’s during World War II. His duty was working as a bookkeeper at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp from 1942 to 1944. His role was to remove all the cash that Jewish prisoners had on them when they arrived at the concentration camp. He would then send the money and belongings of the newly arrived prisoners back to Berlin. Oskar Groening was given the nickname of “The Bookkeeper of Auschwitz.”
Now 94-years-old, Oskar Groening has been on trial in Germany since April for his role in the Holocaust. Groening faces 300,000 counts as an accessory to murder. Over a 48 day period in 1944, 300,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to Auschwitz. Most of them died from being gassed within hours of them arriving. Lawyers for Groening read a statement to the court.
“Even if I was not directly involved in these murders, I did, through my activities, contribute to the functioning of the Auschwitz camp. I am aware of this.”
At the end of Groening’s statement, he knew he could not ask for forgiveness for the atrocities that he was a part of.
“Considering the dimension of the crimes commited in Auschwitz and elsewhere, I don’t consider myself entitled to such a request. I can only ask forgiveness from the Lord.”
Oskar Groening would occasionally work on the ramp where new prisoners would arrive into Auschwitz. Groening remarked that he saw “terrible scenes.” Because of what he witnessed, Oskar put in for multiple transfers to work elsewhere. He started petitioning for a transfer in 1942. Groening was finally granted his transfer in 1944.
Even though Oskar Groening admitted his guilt, he has not been forgiven by Irene Weiss, an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor. She made that clear in a statement she made at Oskar’s trial.
“He has said that he does not consider a perpetrator, but merely a small cog in a machine. But if he were sitting here today wearing his SS uniform, I would tremble. And all the horror that I experienced as a 13-year-old would return to me. Any person who wore that uniform represented terror and the depths to which humanity can sink, regardless of what function they performed. And today, at the age of 84, I still feeel the same way.”
Irene Weiss told the court about the horror her and her family experienced when they were taken from their home in 1944. Weiss recounted that the she was separated from her mother, father, and four of her siblings shortly after her family arrived at the concentration camp. She did not get separated from her 17-year-old sister. When the two of them arrived at their prison barracks, Weiss asked the other prisoners when she would see her family again. “Do you see that smoke? There is your family,” Weiss was told by another prisoner.
Irene Weiss sat less than 30 feet away from Oskar Groening while she relived and spoke of the horrors she witnessed. At the end of her testimony, all Oskar did was check his wrist to see what time it was.
Oskar Groening is the latest person to be brought to trial for crimes committed by soldiers who worked at Auschwitz. Of the 6,500 people who worked at the concentration camp, 49 of them have been found guilty of war crimes.
If convicted, Oskar Groening faces a sentence of 3 to 15 years.
[Images via Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images]