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Oskar Groening, 'Accountant of Auschwitz,' Dead at 96

Oskar Groening, 'Accountant of Auschwitz,' Dead at 96
Convicted former SS officer Oskar Groening listens to the verdict of his trial on July 15, 2015 at court in Lueneburg, northern Germany. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

Tuesday, 13 March 2018 06:50 AM

Oskar Groening, the Auschwitz bookkeeper who was convicted at age 94 after a Munich court cleared the way for the prosecution of low-ranking officials accused of indirectly committing Nazi war crimes, has died. He was 96.

He died March 9, Der Spiegel magazine reported Monday. The publication wrote that prosecutors in Hanover, Germany, said Groening’s lawyer had informed them of Groening’s death. No cause was given.

Dubbed the “accountant of Auschwitz,” Groening went on trial in the northern German city of Lueneburg in April 2015 for having helped in the murder of at least 300,000 Jews at the concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. His job was to collect money and valuables from prisoners’ luggage and send them to Berlin. In July 2015, he was sentenced to four years in prison. Initially deemed too ill for prison, he was declared fit for imprisonment in December and was scheduled to start serving his sentence soon.

“It’s very clear that I am morally guilty for the murders and I acknowledge that guilt here today with remorse,” he said at his trial. “As to the question of guilt under criminal law, this is for the court to decide.”

Trained as a banker, Groening told judges that he tried several times to be relocated to another post or to the front. The first time was when he saw an SS guard kill a baby by smashing it against a truck. The second was when he saw an SS soldier pour gas through a slot into a farmhouse where Jews were held. His third request to be relocated was finally accepted at the end of 1944 and he was moved to the front, he said.

Personal Responsibility

Groening’s trial was part of a renewed effort to target low-ranking Third Reich perpetrators. It followed the 2011 conviction of former Sobibor extermination camp guard John Demjanjuk. Some lawyers said the case set aside the traditional requirement that prosecutors had to prove that workers in camps had committed individual criminal acts before they could be held personally responsible for atrocities.

The Munich judges in Demjanjuk’s trial said it was enough to show he served at the Sobibor death camp, in Poland, to convict him. After that ruling, Germany’s central Nazi crime investigation unit probed about 50 Auschwitz guards and asked prosecutors to charge 30.

“Albeit belatedly, justice has been done,” Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said in a statement after the conviction. “Groening was only a small cog in the Nazi death machine, but without the actions of people like him, the mass murder of millions of Jews and others would not have been possible.”

Mass Murder

Auschwitz, the world’s biggest cemetery for the number of deaths that occurred there from 1941 to 1945, included concentration, labor and extermination camps. As many as 1.5 million people were killed there during the Holocaust, according to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

Born on June 10, 1921, in Nienburg, Germany, Groening was the son of a fabric dealer who had lost an eye during World War I. His mother died when he was 4 years old, according to an article in Der Spiegel magazine.

Groening said he came from a nationalist background and, like many Germans, he initially supported Adolf Hitler who “created jobs for 5 million unemployed.” He gave up his job at a local bank to join the Waffen-SS because their troops were “dashing” and he wanted to participate in their triumphs, he said at his trial. He didn’t know what some SS units did in concentration camps, he added, or what Auschwitz was before he got there in 1942.

After the war, Groening spent three years in a British prison. Released in 1948, he worked as a payroll clerk at a glass-making factory in Lueneburg Heath in Lower Saxony until his retirement, according to a BBC article.

In the 1970s, state prosecutors in Frankfurt investigated him over his role in managing the property of prisoners during the war. Proceedings against him were dropped the following decade.

“I feel guilty before the Jewish people for having been in a troop corps that committed these crimes, even though I wasn’t one of the perpetrators,” he said in 2005. “I apologize to the Jewish people and ask God for forgiveness.”

Groening had two sons.

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Oskar Groening, the Auschwitz bookkeeper who was convicted at age 94 after a Munich court cleared the way for the prosecution of low-ranking officials accused of indirectly committing Nazi war crimes, has died. He was 96.
oskar groening, accountant of auschwitz, dead
Tuesday, 13 March 2018 06:50 AM
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