Law Squirrel

Bookkeeper of Auschwitz Sentenced to Four Years in Jail

Oskar GroeningThe man who worked as the bookkeeper at the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz during the second world war has received a jail term of four years for his role in the mass killing of Jews and other groups persecuted by the Nazis.

German national Oskar Groening, now 94, did not participate directly in any killing, but played an important role in administering the running of the camp. For this, prosecutors contended he was therefore guilty of assisting the regime in its systematic killing of those groups it believed to be undesirable. Following a high-profile trial, Groening has been convicted as an accessory to the murder of more than 300,000 individuals who died at Auschwitz.

As well as Jews, Auschwitz also received other groups taken prisoner under the Nazi regime including prisoners of war, Romani, and homosexuals. Nonetheless, Jews remained the most prominent persecuted group present at the camp, with roughly a sixth of all Jews killed in the holocaust dying at Auschwitz.

The defendant was responsible for sorting through the belongings of those who arrived at the camp. Any banknotes he found were to be removed, sorted, and then sent to Berlin by Mr Groening to help fund the Third Reich’s war effort. In particular, the charges against him related to a period of just a few months, between May and July 1944. Though this period was a short one, it saw around 425,000 Hungarian Jews on 137 separate trains arrive at Auschwitz, of which at least 300,000 are believed to have been killed in the camp’s gas chambers upon arrival. Many of those who were not gassed would later be killed for other reasons or, in many cases, simply die of malnutrition and exhaustion as they were forced to work hard with little food.

Groening has previously admitted that, from a moral standpoint, he is guilty of assisting the murder of these people. However, he has claimed not to know whether he is guilty from a legal standpoint and said that this was for the courts to decide. Prosecutors based in Frankfurt have previously declined to pursue Groening, believing that from a legal standpoint he was not guilty, as his role was indirect and his actions were not causally linked to the killings.

However, other prosecutors in Hanover disagreed. They cited the example of Ivan Demjanjuk, a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp, who was successfully prosecuted despite there being no evidence of his direct involvement in a crime.

The Hanover prosecutors proceeded to mount a case against Mr Groening. The trial was held in the city of Lueneburg, presided over by Judge Franz Kompisch. In his verdict, Kompisch said that Groening had participated willingly in something “inhumane and all but unbearable for the human psyche” in order to obtain “a safe desk job.”

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