Seven decades after the liberation of Auschwitz, former SS member at the Nazi concentration camp, Oskar Groening, shuffled into a German court on Monday. A 93-year-old man, Groening faces charges of complicity in the murder of 300,000 Jews in the summer of 1944.
SS means Schutzstaffel and translates to “protection squadron” or “defense corps.”
Nazi leadership at the time assigned Groening to confiscate luggage from prisoners and collect and count the victims’ money. Groening, dubbed the “accountant of Auschwitz,” stands trial as a last ditch attempt to put the remaining handful of death camp guards in prison before their death.
In an autobiography, Groening spoke about the horrors he witnessed at Auschwitz and admitted to knowing about the gas chambers. He describes himself as “a small cog in the machine,” and repeatedly claims his innocence.
Along with balancing the books, Groening helped transport Jews within the camp.
Auschwitz survivor Hedy Bohm said, “Whether you’re a bookkeeper, a supplier, a driver, a cook, whatever you are, if what you’re doing helps the machinery of death of a regime to keep rolling, you should be called to account. No one should ever be allowed to say ‘I was just a small cog in the machine.’”
The courts brought Groening up on similar charges before but dropped the case because of a lack of evidence of personal involvement.
I can’t begin to imagine how the remaining Holocaust survivors must feel, but I can understand their desire to see a man thrown in jail for the crimes committed against them.
But I can’t understand why a man should be sentenced to jail simply because he was born on the wrong side of history. Groening requested to transfer out of the death camp and was denied three times. The inhuman tortures on Jews will forever scar the minds of not only Holocaust survivors, but also those such as Groening who realized they were part of the blind hatred.
Twenty-one years old at the time, Groening was sent to work at the death camp in the high point of Nazi Germany, swept away by the fervent injustice.
“It is beyond question that I am morally complicit. This moral guilt I acknowledge here, before the victims, with regret and humility,” Groening told judges at the Lueneburg state court in northern Germany.
Oskar Groening faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. At 93-years-old, 15 years could mean the rest of his life. He stumbled into the courtroom with a walker. If convicted, he would be forced to cling onto his life. But the most worrying aspect of jail isn’t a senile Groening; it’s the other inmates, who I doubt would be kind to a former SS guard.
The Holocaust and Auschwitz feel a lifetime away. For many it is, but for those who have lived long enough to remember it, it’s a reminder of the frightening and cold genocide that still haunts them.
Victims want closure, but everybody needs forgiveness.
History remembers every dark sin committed by an individual, group, or nation. But it’s up to us as a society to learn from the mistakes, move on and forgive.