German Court Refuses to Hear Israeli Holocaust Expert at Trial of SS Guard: 'You Can Google It'

Prof. Gideon Greif, who recently advised the script writers for the film 'Son of Saul,' had been commissioned by Auschwitz survivors to present expert testimony about the role of guards such as Reinhold Hanning at the death camp.

94-year-old former SS sergeant Reinhold Hanning sits in the courtroom in Detmold, Germany, Friday, April 29, 2016.
Bernd Thissen / AP

Attorneys representing Reinhold Hanning, the SS man on trial in Germany as an accomplice to mass slaughter at Auschwitz, cut off the testimony of an Israeli expert on the death camps on Thursday, for calling the defendant a liar.

Professor Gideon Greif, who recently advised the script writers for the Oscar winning film “Son of Saul,” flew back to Israel without having been given a chance to testify.

Greif had been commissioned by Auschwitz survivors, also involved in the case’s prosecution, to attend the session in Detmold, Germany, and present expert testimony about the role of guards such as Hanning at the death camp.

“Straight away the accused’s two lawyers stood up like snakeheads and announced that they oppose having me testify,” Greif told Haaretz. The reason they gave to the judge, he said was, “we don’t need any expert testimony about Auschwitz, you can Google it.”

The session was adjourned and following consultations, the judge said she had accepted the defense attorneys’ motion and that Greif would not be permitted to testify.

Greif told Haaretz that “the last word has not yet been said,” and that he and the prosecutors were preparing “surprises” for the SS man’s attorneys ahead of the verdict, expected on June 17.

“We cannot let the criminal have the last word, which must go to the Jews who were tortured, humiliated and murdered at Auschwitz,” Greif said.

Hanning, 94, began standing trial in February. He has been charged with serving as a guard at the camp from 1943 until the summer of 1944, when he was 23, and therefore an accomplice to the mass murder of 170,000 during this period.

The indictment was issued based on a legal precedent set by the Demjanjuk trial in 2011, whereby death camp guards could be held liable without a need for any concrete proof of their involvement in the murders.

Prosecutors are seeking a six-year jail term for Hanning. His attorneys seek to acquit him on ground that “he did not murder or hit anyone.”

Hanning admitted in April he served at the camp, expressed remorse and apologized. He did not confess, however, to participating in any of the acts of murder carried out there.

“All my life I have tried to forget about it. Auschwitz was a nightmare,” he said.

In the testimony he wasn’t permitted to give, Greif wanted to reply to falsehoods he said he had found in Hanning’s testimony.

“He distorted data about the Auschwitz camp and presented a totally distorted picture of the camp. The facts he presented wrongly were the most basic, and it cannot be that someone who served at Auschwitz even for a day wouldn’t know them,” Greif told Haaretz.

For example Hanning said that no inmates escaped from Auschwitz. “This is nonsense; about 700 people escaped from Auschwitz, both Jews and non-Jews. Half were caught and hanged, but several hundred did escape,” Greif said.

“Preventing escapes was one of the main concerns of the camp’s commanders, who feared that their crimes would be revealed,” he added.