He watched his fellow SS men kill children with their bare hands and saw Jews being herded into the gas chambers of Auschwitz, but former death camp guard Oskar Gröning has always denied ultimate responsibility for the genocide committed during the Nazi Holocaust, according to the Guardian.
The 93-year-old “bookkeeper of Auschwitz” will go on trial on Tuesday in the German town of Lüneburg, charged with complicity in the murder of 300,000 Auschwitz prisoners. His case could set a key legal precedent for other Holocaust convictions.
Unlike most war crime suspects, Gröning, now a frail white-haired widower, has declared he is ready to speak about the horrors of Auschwitz, where he was a guard from 1942 to 1944. “I have never found inner peace,” he said a decade ago.
He is one of a handful of former Nazi death camp guards the German justice authorities are struggling to put on trial before they die.
In Auschwitz, he claims he was given the job of sorting out money and valuables stolen from Jews before they were gassed, and denies a role in the actual murders of inmates. “I would describe my role as a small cog in the gears. If you can describe this as guilt then I am guilty. Legally speaking I am innocent,” he has said. But Gröning also admits being a passive witness to appalling crimes against humanity. He watched one of his SS colleagues murder a small baby: “The crying bothered him, so he smashed the baby’s head against the side of a truck until it was dead,” he told Der Spiegel in 2005.
Prosecutors will rely on a new legal precedent set by former Ukrainian-born death camp guard John Demjanjuk, who was convicted of complicity in mass murder by a Munich court in 2012.
Demjanjuk was a guard at the Nazi extermination camp of Sobibor, where inmates were immediately sent to their death. Judges ruled that merely by working at the camp, he was an accessory to mass murder.
That Auschwitz was a labour camp, and not solely a death camp, will make Gröning’s case more complicated, lawyers say. Gröning insists that he is innocent.