Reinhold Hanning: Former SS Auschwitz Guard Apologizes At Trial In Germany

Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former SS Auschwitz guard, apologized on Friday in a German court for not doing anything to stop the torture and murders the thousands of prisoners endured at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

According to the New York Times,Hanning read a statement into a microphone from his wheelchair in which he said he was “sincerely sorry” for his failure to take action during his time as an SS guard.

“I want to say that it disturbs me deeply that I was part of such a criminal organization,” Hanning told the court in the North Rhine-Westphalia city of Detmold. “I am ashamed that I saw injustice and never did anything about it and I apologize for my actions. I am very, very sorry.”

Hanning, who said he has never talked about his time spent in the war with anyone including his family, is being charged with being an accessory to the murder of at least 170,000 people who died at Auschwitz during World War II. Prior to Reinhold’s statement, his attorney Johannes Salmen read a 22-page statement regarding how Reinhold ended up working at Auschwitz.

Hanning was reportedly urged to join the Waffen SS by his stepmother. Although he only wanted to serve on the front lines, after an injury at Kiev in 1941, he was sent to Auschwitz to work as a guard. When he first arrived, the statement read, Reinhold did not realize what horrific crimes were taking place. However, he did admit he later learned what was happening at the camp, but did nothing to stop it.

“Nobody talked to us about it in the first days there, but if someone, like me, was there for a long time then one learned what was going on,” the statement read. “People were shot, gassed and burned. I could see how corpses were taken back and forth or moved out. I could smell the burning bodies; I knew corpses were being burned.”

Reinhold was later assigned to a guard tower, and explained that the guards were ordered to shoot any prisoner that tried to escape, ABC News reported. Hanning did not say if he had shot anyone, and did not reveal any specific details into his involvement at the camp.

Auschwitz survivor Leon Schwarzbaum, one of nearly 40 survivors who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, listened as Hanning offered his apologies and shared his story. Although Leon said he appreciates the apology, he said it’s not enough to make up for the torture he and so many others endured.

“I lost 35 family members, how can you apologize for that?” Schwarzbaum, 95, said. “I am not angry, I don’t want him to go to prison but he should say more for the sake of the young generation today because the historical truth is important.”

Prosecutor Andreas Brendel said they already had sufficient evidence that Hanning worked at the camp, but added that his admission could help them win a conviction.

“Today’s statement contributed a little more to establish that he was there, because he admitted that, and more importantly to the fact that he knew about the killings in the main camp — that also is a crucial fact,” Brendel said.

[Photo by Bernd Thissen/Pool Photo via AP]