A German court today sentenced a former Nazi SS officer known as the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz” to four years in jail, in what was expected to be one of the last Holocaust trials. Oskar Groening, 94, sat impassively as judge Franz Kompisch said “the defendant is found guilty of accessory to murder in 300,000 legally connected cases” of deported Jews who were sent to the gas chambers in 1944.
Groening served as a bookkeeper at the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, sorting and counting the money taken from those killed or used as slave labour, collecting cash in different European currencies, and shipping it back to his Nazi bosses in Berlin.
The sentence was longer than the three and a half years prosecutors had demanded in the court in the northern city of Lueneburg, which has been hearing the case since April. Groening had yesterday seized a last opportunity to address the judges and said he was “very sorry” for his time stationed at the concentration camp, telling them that “no one should have taken part in Auschwitz”.
“I know that. I sincerely regret not having lived up to this realisation earlier and more consistently. I am very sorry,” he said, his voice wavering. A group of Holocaust survivors said in a statement released after the verdict “we welcome the conviction of Oskar Groening”, calling it a “very late step toward justice”.
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Groening had testified in April and again this month that he was so horrified by the crimes he witnessed at the camp after his arrival in 1942 that he appealed three times to his superiors for a transfer to the front, which was not granted until autumn 1944.
Groening has acknowledged “moral guilt” but said it is up to the court to rule on his legal culpability seven decades after the Holocaust. Some 1.1 million people, most of them European Jews, perished between 1940 and 1945 in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp before it was liberated by Soviet forces.