Former SS officer Oskar Groening, mostly known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” was sentenced by a German court to four years in prison. He was charged for being an accomplice in the murder of 300,000 Jews between May and July of 1944. Victims of the Holocaust are now divided whether the verdict was just right or too much for the 94-year-old convict.
Bookkeeper of Auschwitz
Groening’s sentencing is six months longer than what the prosecutors had asked from the court, Deutsche Welle reported. The “bookkeeper of Auschwitz” is charged for his role collecting luggage and valuables from prisoners to the death camp. At this time, Groening was just 21 years old.
Groening told court that one of his duty is to separate the newcomers into groups of those who can still work and those who could go straight to the chambers. While he denied being legally guilty of directly murdering people during the period, he had always admitted of his moral guilt of following instructions from his Nazi superiors.
Survivors welcome verdict, Eva Kor Appeals for forgiveness
Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, welcomed the verdict. She said that being the “bookkeeper,” Groening was clearly an accessory to the Nazi crimes.
“The conviction of Oskar Gröning for his actions sends an unequivocal message that, although he may not have led or directly participated in the atrocities at Auschwitz, he was clearly an accessory to the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis. By being the ‘bookkeeper’ of Auschwitz, he assisted in and facilitated the murder of 300,000 Jewish men, women and children and it is right that he has now been held legally accountable for this,” Pollock said in a statement.
Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, also welcomed the verdict. She said Groening was part of the Nazi killing machine.
“The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust welcomes this verdict, very likely one of the last times someone who helped perpetrate the Holocaust will be judged. Even 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, the need for justice remains powerful. Oskar Groening was part of the Nazi killing machine which murdered six million Jewish people, and it is right that a court has judged him for his role. He chose to stand by and be complicit in the killing,” Marks-Woldman said in a statement.
Survivor Ivor Perl, who testified in court, shared the moment when she looked Groening straight in the eyes while recalling the tremendous impact that the Nazi regime had in her life and in humanity.
“The first thing I felt when I saw Groening was a sense of hopelessness. I almost felt annoyed that he was not more of the evil character that I had expected him to be. A lot the hatred that I had expected to feel vanished. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulder and it helped to relieve the pain. I saw him not just as a Nazi but as a human,” Perl said.
“I had never been one for hate or revenge. After my liberation in Germany, at the age of 13, I didn’t want to join in with the other survivors throwing stones at the SS as they passed by in allied vehicles being taken back to the camps for interrogation. I just never felt as though I needed to.”
As for her experience testifying against Groening in court, she said, “The court process made me feel secure. I saw the German police with guns, however this time I know that they were there for my protection.”
Eva Kor, who earlier this year embraced and shook hands with Groening, appealed for other survivors to forgive him. She told BBC’s Ian Pannell that she felt disappointed about the verdict. With his old age, she expected him to be given a community service instead.
Leon Schwarzbaum, one of the survivors who is the same age as Groening, said he cannot forgive him.
“When they punched this on my arm they told me no-one lasts long in Auschwitz,” Schwarzbaum said told while pointing to the tattooed numbers on his arms.
“After the verdict, I saw him again; four years is the right sentence, he said, after all he’s an old man,” he said.
Asked if he is willing to forgive Groening, he said “no.”
“I lost 30 members of my family in Auschwitz.”
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