Oskar Groening, the 94-year-old former Nazi officer and described “accountant of Auschwitz”, was convicted Wednesday of over 300,000 counts of accessory to murder for his role in the notorious Nazi death camp.
Groening went on trial nearly three months ago, some 70 years after the camps were liberated, in what many have called one of the most important trials of the post Holocaust period, getting to the heart of whether individuals who never actually killed anyone, like Groening, could be prosecuted for murder.
Here is what you need to know about him.
1. He Was the Bookkeeper of Auschwitz
Groening’s role in the notorious concentration camp was to collect and sort through the money and effects seized from prisoners when they arrived in the camp. Though he never actually killed anyone himself, he was witness to mass extermination and admitted that he was aware of what was taking place inside.
His role as the official bookkeeper ultimately led to his prosecution, with presiding judge Franz Kompisch saying that he hoped Groening’s conviction would serve to give some peace to his victims and their families.
2. He Surrendered to the British on His Birthday
Following Auschwitz, Groening was transferred to the front line in the Ardennes in 1944. By his own account, Groening requested the transfer after witnessing the gassing of a number of inmates.
Groening’s SS Unit eventually surrendered to the British on June 10th, 1945, the day of his birthday.
3. He Had a Family, and Was Never Arrested After the War
Though he spent a brief period of time as a British prisoner of war, Groening was never actually arrested or tried in court.
In fact, after the war, Groening returned to Germany, where, despite his crimes, he lived most of his life in peace, working in a management position in a glass factory and living in a middle class neighborhood. He had a dog, a wife, a daughter, and a stamp collection.
4. He Came Forward in Response to Holocaust Deniers
Following a number of calls and emails from individuals telling him that the Holocaust never happened, Groening did an interview in 2005 with the BBC in which he expressed regret and spoke openly about his participation in the camps, saying: “I saw the gas chambers. I saw the crematoria.”
It was this admission, along with the work of a number of Nazi hunters, that led to the criminal charges being filed against him in September, and the subsequent trial this April.
5. He Counts His Crimes as Moral, notCriminal
Groening said during the trial, and on occasions before, that he considered his participation in the camps to be a moral crime, not one that should be criminal.
He has gone on to say that his part was that of a cog in a machine, pointing to the fact that he has testified against other SS officers as a witness, and not as a defendant.