This year marks the 70th anniversary of the End of World War II and also the Nuremburg Trials. In these trials high ranked Nazi war criminals were charged for actions in the Second World War and the Holocaust. Goering was one of the most famous defendants, but for the rest of the world it was unsatisfying as the leading architects and executors of the Holocaust were either dead (like Himmler or Hitler) or in hiding (like Eichmann or Mengele). The Holocaust and the horror of the concentration camps are still relevant today, as marked by the ongoing trial against Oskar Groening, one of the last living pieces of the Nazi mechanism which killed millions of Jews.
Dr. Christoph Rueckel, who is Of Counsel Attorney for BridgehouseLaw LLP, is representing two of the Jewish victims. The trial is currently taking place in Luneburg, Germany and is expected to run for at least the remainder of this year. Dr. Rueckel is questioning Groening’s role, describing him as “unemotional and without remorse.”
While Oskar Groening was no Eichmann or Hess, he was nevertheless part of the machine. He was responsible for collecting the money of the prisoners and preparing it to be shipped to Germany. He joined the SS when he was just 19 years old.
The SS, abbreviated for Schutzstaffel (German: “Protective Echelon”), the black-uniformed elite corps and self-described “political soldiers” of the Nazi Party. SS men were schooled in racial hatred and admonished to harden their hearts to human suffering. During World War II the SS carried out massive executions of political opponents, Roma (Gypsies), Jews, Polish leaders, communist authorities, partisan resisters, and Russian prisoners of war. Following the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allies, the SS was declared a criminal organization by the Allied Tribunal in Nurenberg in 1946.
After two years of training Groening was ordered to work in Auschwitz, where he was assigned to Inmate Money Administration. He worked in Auschwitz for 2 years, first in the office, then at the ramp which led to the gas chambers. He witnessed the death of 300,000 people and like most, he remained passive. As he witnessed more and more cruelty, he requested a transfer, which was granted in 1944. The war ended and he subsequently settled into his new life. He became an accountant and lived quietly for the next 40 years. Groening could have faded away into obscurity, but for his recent involvement opposing the Holocaust denial movement in 2005. Groening chose to write a memoir and participate in a BBC documentary to attest to the atrocities he witnessed at Auschwitz. As a result, Groening’s own admissions have reignited these issues and he is now facing prosecution for his participation.
It might be the last Auschwitz trial, we will see or one of the last eye witness reports we will hear. And so far the trial has had its moments, even though the health of Mr. Groening is slowing down the trial. Even though Mr. Groening has acknowledged his moral guilt and admitted that he knew Jews were being sent to the gas chambers, he is downplaying his role as a concentration camp bookkeeper by insisting that there is no blood on hands. He sorted through and organized the luggage of the Jews that were led from the train straight to the gas chambers. He made sure that their money, jewelry and other valuables were forwarded to Berlin. In light of these actions, the Plaintiffs in the Luneberg trial are alleging that Groening’s work supported the systematic killing of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Several contemporary witnesses have described their experiences in Auschwitz. There are 49 joint plaintiffs, most of which either had been in Auschwitz or had family lose their lives in the camps. The most notable witness has been Eva Kor, who has been criticized for forgiving Mr. Groening. She and her twin sister were in Auschwitz. She survived the experiments at the hands of the infamous Dr. Mengele and has spent most of her life as a speaker and activist educating about the Holocaust. She embraced Mr. Groening and explained the necessity to forgive and to educate together, victim and perpetrator, about the Holocaust. Other plaintiffs take the trial as a chance to tell their story again, most are not as forgiving as Ms. Kor.
Mr. Groening’s case not only revives searing questions about individual guilt for Nazi crimes but also highlights the decades of legal inaction over Auschwitz, where an estimated 1.1 million people were killed. About 6,500 members of the SS worked at the camp; only 49 have been convicted of war crimes.If found guilty, Groening faces a maximum possible sentence of 15 years in prison.
“It is an important point in looking at genocidal acts which happen today – that perpetrators perhaps do get taken to court,” Christoph Heubner, of the International Auschwitz Committee in Berlin, said in an interview before the trial. “Even when it is 70 years too late, it is a lingering, lasting signal.”
und viele Grüße aus Charlotte
Reinhard von Hennigs