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IN A GERMAN COURT, “the accountant of Auschwitz” charged with being an accessory to 300,000 counts of murder declared himself “morally complicit” in the concentration camp’s horrors. Oskar Gröning, 94, voiced repentance but said his guilt is such that he cannot ask for forgiveness. “As concerns guilt before the law, you must decide,” he told Judge Franz Kompisch. 

After being conscripted, the former bank accountant volunteered in 1940 to join what he called the “dashing and zestful” Schutzstaffel. At Auschwitz, Gröning kept records of cash that he and guards took from prisoners. In November 1942, he watched an SS soldier silence a crying baby by fatally dashing the infant against a truck. He also saw prisoners gassed. Repelled, Gröning sought a transfer from the camp, eventually succeeding.

In April, Auschwitz survivor Eva Mozes Kor approached Gröning as he ate a cheese sandwich during a break in the near-empty courtroom, the Guardian reported.

“Mr. Gröning,” Kor said, “I have much sympathy for you. I know it is mentally, physically, and emotionally hard for you, and I think you are courageous.”

Gröning nodded.

On July 15, a German court sentenced Gröning to four years in prison for his involvement in the Holocaust. Gröning is expected to appeal.


Originally published in the September/October 2015 issue of World War II magazine. Subscribe here.
Photo credit: HistoryNet Archive

Longtime World War II magazine contributor Laurence Rees profiled Oskar Gröning for his Their Darkest Hour column in 2013. Read his profile, “A Fond Look Back.”