Auschwitz guard says he shares 'moral guilt'
A 93-year-old man who was a Waffen SS volunteer at Auschwitz told a German court that while he never killed anyone, his role in an administrative post at the concentration camp made him "morally guilty" for murder.
Oskar Groening, known as the "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz", collected money taken from camp victims' luggage.
He went on trial yesterday in the German city of Lueneburg on charges that he aided in the murder of 300,000 Jews from throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.
He told judges he once tried to leave his post at Auschwitz, near Krakow in Poland, because he saw Jews being gassed and heard their screams.
"I am morally guilty for the murders and I acknowledge that guilt here today with remorse," said Groening, who vividly described his time at the camp more than 70 years ago.
"As to the question of guilt under criminal law, this is for the court to decide."
German prosecutors are trying to show that lower-ranking staff at concentration camps can be held responsible because they knew about the killings and supported the system, if only in administrative roles.
Groening, who was trained to work as a banker, told the court that one of his tasks was to make sure money and valuables wouldn't be stolen by camp staff from luggage left by prisoners.
The victims had mostly been moved to the gas chambers when he arrived at the ramp where they had been selected.
He told judges that he unsuccessfully tried to be relocated to another post or to the front.
The first time was when he saw an SS guard kill a baby by smashing it against a truck.
The second was when he saw an SS soldier pour gas through a slot into a farmhouse where Jews were held. He heard the victims' screams, which eventually faded away.
His third request to be relocated was accepted at the end of 1944 and he was moved to the front, he said.
Groening has long been open about his role in the camp and has been interviewed in newspapers and magazines.
"I also testified against some of my comrades at their trials," he said. "One prosecutor cited me as an example that this wasn't all about orders and obedience, but that you could decide to be relocated."
More than 60 Auschwitz survivors and relatives have registered as co-plaintiffs at the trial and some may testify today.
Groening said he initially supported Adolf Hitler who "created jobs for five million unemployed".
He gave up his job in a bank to join the SS because their troops were "dashing" and he wanted to share in their triumphs. He did not know the role some SS units played in concentration camps.
Before being sent to the concentration camp, he and other recruits were told in Berlin that they were chosen for "special tasks that may not be pleasant, but are equally important for the final victory", he said.