Thursday 18 January 2018

Ex-Auschwitz guard tells of death camp in harrowing detail

Oskar Groening
Oskar Groening
Oskar Groening

A former SS sergeant described in chilling detail yesterday how cattle cars full of Jews were brought to the Auschwitz death camp, the people stripped of their belongings and then most led directly into gas chambers.

Oskar Groening (93) is being tried on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, related to a period between May and July 1944 when around 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex near Krakow in Nazi-occupied Poland and most immediately gassed to death.

So many trains were arriving that often two would have to wait with closed doors as the first was "processed", Groening testified at the Lueneburg state court in Germany.

Although he was more regularly assigned to the camp's Auschwitz I section, he said he guarded the Birkenau ramp three times.

The main gas chambers were located at Birkenau.

"The capacity of the gas chambers and the capacity of the crematoria were quite limited. Someone said that 5,000 people were processed in 24 hours, but I didn't verify this. I didn't know," he said.

"For the sake of order we waited until train one was entirely processed and finished."

Auschwitz survivors describe their arrival as chaotic, with Nazi guards yelling orders, dogs barking and families being ripped apart.

But Groening maintained the opposite, saying that "it was very orderly and not as strenuous" on the ramp at Birkenau.

"There were no trucks," he said during the second day of his trial. "They all walked - some in one direction, some in another direction . . . to where the crematoria and gas chambers were."


Groening said as his trial opened on Tuesday that he considers himself "morally guilty", but it was up to the court to decide if he was legally guilty.

Eva Kor (81) was one of the Jews who arrived at Auschwitz in 1944.

"Everything was going very fast. Yelling, crying, pushing - dogs were barking. I'd never experienced anything that fast or that crazy in my entire life," she said before addressing the court.

Her two older sisters and parents were taken directly to the gas chambers while she and her twin sister, both 10 at the time, were ripped away from their mother to be used as human guinea pigs for camp doctor Josef Mengele's experiments.

"All I remember is her arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled away," she recalled. "I never even got to say goodbye."

Ms Kor, who now lives in Indiana, is one of more than 60 Auschwitz survivors and their families from the US, Canada, Israel and elsewhere who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs.

Thomas Walther, who represents many co-plaintiffs, said he and his clients were happy that Groening agreed to testify, but suspected he was withholding many details.

"There is an ocean of truth, but with many islands of lies," he said.

Ms Kor, the first co-plaintiff to address the court, described her experience and asked Groening whether he knew Mengele or details about files he kept in hopes of learning more about what diseases she and her sister, who both survived the camp, were injected with.

Groening's attorney, Hans Holtermann, said his client would try to answer what questions he could, but he did not believe Groening knew Mengele.

Groening guarded prisoners' baggage on the ramps, but his main task was to collect and tally money stolen from the new arrivals and then send it to Berlin - a job for which the German press has dubbed him the "Accountant of Auschwitz".


Groening was indicted under a new line of German legal reasoning that anyone who helped a death camp function can be accused of being an accessory to murder without evidence of participation in a specific crime.

Outside court, Ms Kor said she wished Groening would use the trial to try to dissuade "misguided young people" from becoming neo-Nazis.

"I'm going to take whatever confession he gives - it's better than no confession," she said. "Maybe this is the best thing he has ever done in his life. Isn't that sad?"

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