BERLIN – A 94-year-old man who was once a Waffen SS volunteer at Auschwitz was convicted for aiding in the murder of more than 300,000 Jews at the camp and sentenced to four years in prison.
Most of the victims came from Hungary and were deported to Auschwitz when Groening was serving there, the court in the German city of Lueneburg said in a statement on its website Wednesday.
Oskar Groening, who collected money taken from camp victims’ luggage, became known as the “accountant of Auschwitz” during coverage of the case. He told judges at the beginning of the trial his role in an administrative post at the concentration camp made him “morally guilty” of murder.
Groening’s is the first German Holocaust-related verdict since the 2011 conviction of former Sobibor camp guard John Demjanjuk. German prosecutors are trying to show that lower-ranking staff can be held responsible because they supported the killings, if only in administrative roles.
In a separate probe, Frankfurt prosecutors said on Wednesday they charged a 92-year-old man over his role as a guard at Auschwitz. The man, who wasn’t identified, helped handle the arrival of 1,870 people from Berlin, France and the Netherlands, according to the statement. Of those, 1,075 were immediately killed.
In Groening’s case, prosecutors will have to decide after any appeals whether he actually has to serve time in prison, according to the Lueneburg court. Prosecutors had sought a term of 42 months.
“In sentencing, the judges took regard to the age of the defendant,” the court said. “He must have a chance to have a life in freedom after serving his term.”
His lawyer, Hans Holtermann, had asked for an acquittal, saying Groening’s actions can’t be punished under existing law. Holtermann didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
In the camp, Groening, who trained as a banker, collected money and valuables from luggage and sent them to Berlin. 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.
“Albeit belatedly, justice has been done,” Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said in a statement. “Groening was only a small cog in the Nazi death machine, but without the actions of people like him, the mass murder of millions of Jews and others would not have been possible.”
Groening has long been open about his role in the camp and has been interviewed in newspapers and magazines. In the late 1970s, Frankfurt prosecutors investigated him, but they dropped the case in 1985.