Tuesday was a controversial day in Germany with the start of the trial of 93-year-old Oskar Groening, the “Accountant of Auschwitz” as he’s known in the German press. He is being charged as an accessory to 300,000 murders.
Most people view the events at Auschwitz to be black and white, and therefore, may be confused as to what the “controversy” of this issue is. But Groening’s trial is somewhat unique; the German justice system has previously only charged Nazis who directly participated in murder, rather than their office-worker colleagues, according to CBS News.
Groening never murdered anyone, but he was a member of Adolf Hitler’s paramilitary organization, the SS. He guarded prisoners’ baggage while they were led to gas chambers, took their money and valuables and then tallied it all and sent it to Berlin. So here is the controversial question: is Groening legally an accessory to murder?
Some will answer with a resounding “yes” with no hesitation. After all, Groening was an admitted Nazi and a self-described “cog in the machine” of Hitler’s plans. Whether he personally harmed another human being is irrelevant because he was a willing member of the party responsible for hundreds of thousands of murders.
Some think this may be more of a gray area. Groening was responsible only for the finances and valuables collected at the camp.
Some argue that whether he had been at the camp or not, the murders still would have taken place.
But Groening admitted in the trial that it was clear to him that Jews who entered the camp were not expected to survive. He also said he accepted “moral guilt” for his role, but it would be up to the court to decide if he is legally guilty.
What we believe it comes down to is intention. Groening was fully entrenched in the corruption and evil of the Nazi party. He was stationed at the most infamous concentration camp in history, taking others’ belongings before they were sent off to be murdered. He publicly acknowledged he was thoroughly aware of everything going on at the camp, and he witnessed thousands of murders. And he was a co-worker, and probably a friend, of the men who actually did the killing.
To work for the Nazis, to be a productive member of Auschwitz who never questioned or tried to stop its brutal practices, clearly made Groening a knowing accomplice. He may have been a “bench player,” but he was still part of the team.
The Optimist editorial board is not a jury, but we find it unlikely the German court will rule in favor of Groening. And if sentenced, he will face three to 15 years in prison. At 93, that is probably a life sentence for him.
A guilty verdict would also most likely provide significant closure for the more than 60 Auschwitz survivors attending the trial. So let’s hope that, in this case, moral guilt and legal guilt mean the same thing to the court.