Accused Auschwitz Guard Spoke Out Against Holocaust Denial

In Germany, participation in the Holocaust in not a a crime; suspects need to be linked to specific acts of murder.

A plaque is placed by March of the Living participants on railway tracks at Auschwitz near Oswiecim, Poland, May 2, 2011.
AP

A former Auschwitz employee who has been charged in Germany with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder previously spoke out publicly against Holocaust denial, the Guardian newspaper reports.

Oskar Groening, 93, was charged in a Hanover court earlier this week. Once called "the accountant of Auschwitz," he was responsible for counting the money taken from the luggage of murdered Jews from 1942 to 1944 and sending it back to SS headquarters in Berlin. He also stood guard as the transports entered the camp.

Groening has never denied being in Auschwitz. Appearing in the BBC documentary "Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution" in 2005, he said that pervasive Holocaust denial had led to him to speak out.

"I see it as my task now, at my age, to face up to these things that I experienced, and to oppose the Holocaust deniers who claim that Auschwitz never happened," he said. "I saw the crematoria, I saw the burning pits."

Interviewed by Der Spiegel magazine in the same year, he described an incident while on “ramp duty” when he heard a baby crying. “I saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs,” he said. “He smashed the baby’s head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.”

But Groening denied his own culpability in the same interview. "Accomplice would almost be too much for me," he told Der Spegel. "I would describe my role as a small cog in the gears. If you can describe that as guilt, then I am guilty, but not voluntarily. Legally speaking, I am innocent."

A previous case against Groening was dropped for lack of evidence by Frankfurt prosecutors in 1985. The historian Andreas Eichmüller once calculated that of the 6,500 SS members who worked at Auschwitz and survived the war, only 49 had been convicted.

Groening is one of about 30 former Auschwitz guards who federal investigators last year said state prosecutors should pursue under a new precedent in German law. Of the four cases investigated in the Hanover region, two have been shelved because the suspects have been deemed unfit for trial and one was closed when the suspect died.

According to law professor Ingo Müller, author of "Terrible Lawyers: the Past Our Judiciary Has Not Overcome," the problem in convicting individual members of the SS lies in proving individual guilt. "Just participating in the Holocaust doesn't count," he told the Guardian; it is necessary to link a suspect to specific murder.

It is long past time that a German court recognized the Holocaust itself as a crime, according to Müller "We can't just let it stand that the German judiciary says participating in the Holocaust is not a crime. But I'm very skeptical that there will ever be another conviction."