Ex-SS guard, 94, on trial in Germany over Auschwitz killings

11th February 2016, Comments 1 comment

A 94-year-old former Auschwitz guard went on trial Thursday for complicity in the murders of tens of thousands of people at the Nazi concentration camp.

Reinhold Hanning was taken to court in the western town of Detmold seven decades after the defeat of the Nazis, charged with at least 170,000 counts of accessory to murder over his role at the camp in occupied Poland.

The trial is the first of three scheduled this year against former SS men, as Germany races to prosecute ageing Third Reich criminals.

Christoph Heubner, vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee representing victims, said it was an opportunity to make up "for the failures of Germany's justice system".

Among the 6,500 former SS personnel at Auschwitz who survived the war, fewer than 50 have been convicted.

Holocaust survivor Angela Orosz, who will testify against Hanning, told AFP that all Auschwitz staff "were part of this killing machine".

"Without these people and their active support for the Holocaust, what happened in Auschwitz, the murder of 1.1 million people in just a few years, would not have been possible," said Orosz, who was born in Auschwitz just over a month before it was liberated on January 27, 1945.

Due to the strong interest in the trial, Thursday's hearing was held at the chamber of commerce, which can hold more people.

An hour before it was due to open, a queue of at least 50 people had formed outside, where a blue banner reading "Let's not forget" was also draped.

After the charge sheet is read out Thursday against Hanning, the court is to hear from three German plaintiffs -- Holocaust survivors Leon Schwarzbaum, Erna de Vries and Justin Sonder.

It was unclear if Hanning would speak.

- 'Not too late' -

Hanning faces between three and 15 years in jail, but in view of his advanced age and the period required for any appeals, he is unlikely to serve time.

"Even today, it is not too late to look at what happened", said 90-year-old Sonder, who lost 22 members of his family under the Nazi regime and was sent to Auschwitz when he was 17 years old.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, agreed.

"There are still a few old men out there with blood on their hands. For seven decades, they did not have to answer for their crimes.

"As long as it's possible to bring any of them to justice, it must be done," he said.

Hanning stands accused of having watched over the selection of which prisoners were fit for labour, and which should be sent to gas chambers.

He is also deemed to have been aware of the regular mass shooting of inmates at the camp, as well as the systematic starvation of prisoners.

"Through his capacity as a guard, he facilitated... the several thousand killings of inmates by the main perpetrator," prosecutors said.

Hanning has admitted to working in Auschwitz but denies a role in the killings.

- New legal basis -

Thursday's trial came on the heels of last year's high-profile case against Oskar Groening, dubbed the "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz".

Groening was sentenced in July to four years in prison, even though he had previously been cleared by German authorities after lengthy criminal probes dating back to the 1970s.

But the legal foundation for prosecuting ex-Nazis changed in 2011 with the German conviction of former death camp guard John Demjanjuk, solely on the basis of his having worked at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland.

At least two other cases are due to be heard this year before German courts.

One of them concerns former SS medic, Hubert Zafke, 95, who is charged with at least 3,681 counts of complicity in killings.

Zafke was a medical orderly at the camp in a period when 14 trains carrying prisoners -- including the Jewish teenage diarist Anne Frank -- arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Another former guard at Auschwitz, 93-year-old Ernst Remmel, is set to stand trial in April.

© 2016 AFP

1 Comment To This Article

  • SteveB posted:

    on 12th February 2016, 16:01:19 - Reply

    Ridiculous, hypocritical, and vindictive trial against an 18 year old kid who wasn%u2019t in any position to influence camp policy and who%u2019s only crime was the misfortune of being assigned to Auschwitz. He didn%u2019t have the option to refuse to do his assigned duties; he would have been shot. Everyone is well aware of what whet on at the camp and this is not up for debate. This bogus charge of %u201Chelping the death camp function%u201D is beyond belief. You might as well convict the local town baker for providing bread to the camp. The gutless German government should have put an end to this type of farce fifty years ago and set a statute of limitations. So many greater crimes where ignored or sentences greatly reduced due to political pressure because of the impending Cold War, or for those deemed valuable to allied nations (Operation Paperclip). Instead of prosecuting this innocent man, maybe the Jewish state should spent some time reviewing it%u2019s own racist persecution of those peoples under its control and subject to a system of apartheid. Or is that anti-Semitic to even suggest such a thing, or for that matter any criticism.