Oskar Gröning, who had been found guilty for his role at the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, dies in hospital aged 96.
For most of World War II, Gröning was stationed at Auschwitz concentration camp as a junior squad leader of the SS. He worked as an accountant, counting and sorting the money and personal possessions taken from prisoners.
Despite the bureaucratic nature of his work, Gröning was witness to the physical acts of the extermination process at Auschwitz. He described several harrowing experiences publically, including the burning of victims’ bodies and the casual murder of children and babies by SS officers.
In 2014, Gröning was charged by state prosecutors in Germany with having been an accessory to murders at Auschwitz. During the trial, which took place in 2015, the court heard evidence from Auschwitz survivors. Gröning asked for forgiveness, admitting his share of “moral guilt”, but claiming that it was up to the court to decide his “criminal guilt”.
Gröning was found guilty in July 2015 of being accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 Jews at Auschwitz. Gröning’s defence lawyer appealed the sentence of four years in jail, but the appeal was rejected by the federal court in 2016, and in 2017 Gröning was considered fit for prison, despite his advanced age. The sentencing of Gröning was part of a final effort by the German government to bring the last remaining Nazi war crime suspects to justice.
The case against Gröning was made possible by the public statements and interviews given by Gröning himself. After returning to Germany after the war and keeping a low profile for decades, Gröning began speaking out about his experiences once he learned about Holocaust denial.
Despite his condemnation of the Holocaust and of his earlier beliefs, Gröning never considered himself personally guilty of any crime. He described his role in the Holocaust as an involuntary “small cog in the gears”. In January 2018, Gröning applied for clemency to avoid prison, but his pardon was rejected. He died before starting his sentence.