Oskar Groening, now 91 and the former “bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” is on trial in Germany today in what may be the last judicial proceedings of Nazi criminals.
He is one of the last SS members, and may be the last, to be on trial. Most of the others have escaped justice, and the years it took before bringing Groening to the courtroom have been described by German writer Christoph Heubner as a “disaster” of justice
He faces 300,000 counts of accessory to murder for serving as an SS guard at Auschwitz death camp, where hundreds of thousands of Jews died in the gas chambers.
He also tallied money and possession taken from victims. Prosecutors told the court, “He helped the Nazi regime benefit economically, and supported the systematic killings.”
Groening has taken the attitude of “I was only taking orders” and once started singing a song from his youth during a Der Spiegel interview:
‘And when Jewish blood begins to drip from our knives, things will be good again.’
Back then we didn’t even think about what we were singing.
He also described how an SS killed a baby:
I saw [a] SS soldier grab the baby by the legs… He smashed the baby’s head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.
Groening said he was “horrified” by the scene.
It “horrified” him, but so what? He declared, “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.”
Innocent of what? Perhaps innocent of having been Hitler, or Eichmann. But is he innocent of being Oskar Groening?
Understanding that he thinks he is not guilty explains volumes about the Nazi mentality, which in the end can only be understood by anyone who is the personification of evil.
German writer Christoph Heubner told the London Telegraph, “This could be the last Nazi war crimes trial in Germany
“The legal treatment (of the Holocaust) has been an absolute disaster, a dirty stain on the name of our country. In Germany a total of 43 SS men have faced court, nine received life sentences, 25 were sent to prison, and the rest were acquitted. This is out of about 6,500 people from the SS concentration camps who were alive at the end of the war.
Seventy years after Auschwitz we still have to have trials because the German judiciary has failed miserably on the issue….
“Many survivors have talked to German youths, with political parties in Germany, in school classes. But a court is a place where justice is handed down, where human rights are defended, where eyewitness accounts gain legal weight.
“The trial is also important because it sends a signal to people who are involved in genocides today. Time may pass, but the day of judgment will come.”
Even if they say they are “innocent.”