Oskar Groening is one of 6,500 members of the SS to have worked at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where an estimated 1.1 million Jews were murdered. He is now standing trial, which commenced today in Lüneburg, Germany for “complicity in the murder of 300,000 mostly Hungarian Jews in two months during the summer of 1944,” reported the New York Times.
“It is beyond question that I am morally complicit,” Groening said to the judge in the courtroom. “This moral guilt I acknowledge here, before the victims, with regret and humility.”
The Times described an account of the “atrocities” he witnessed:
…one night in December 1942 when he said he was rousted from bed to help hunt down fleeing prisoners. In the process, he told the court, he saw prisoners herded into a building and an SS superior tip gas out of a can into an opening. The screams of the prisoners inside “grew louder and more desperate, and after a short time became quieter and then stopped completely,” Mr. Gröning said.
“That was the only time I saw a complete gassing,” he said, emphasizing that “I did not take part.”
In September 2014, Tablet contributor Alexander Aciman described a dilemma that is arises in trying Groening:
…there’s something fundamentally problematic about how rare it is that a Nazi finally be charged with a crime. In fact, Groening has been under investigation for quite some time, and was even interviewed by Der Spiegel in 2005 about his various jobs at the camp. He’s been a controversial figure—comfortably living in Germany for the past few decades.
The fact is that very few high-level guards and officers ever stand trial. Often, they end up dying before their trial dates… The question, of course, is why it takes more than half a century to bring war criminals and murderers to trial.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.