Oskar Gröning, the ‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz,’ Is Useless at 96

Oskar Gröning, the ‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz,’ Is Useless at 96

So certain was Mr. Gröning of his personal place that he went public in 2005 with lengthy interviews retelling the trivialities of his experiences as what he termed a tiny cog within the gears of the Ultimate Answer.

In 2011, although, German attitudes had been remodeled when John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian, was jailed in Munich for his involvement within the killing of 28,000 Jews on the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Mr. Demjanjuk, who died in 2012 earlier than an enchantment might be heard, “knew he was a part of a corporation with no different function however mass homicide,” Decide Ralph Alt stated on the time. The decision opened the best way for prosecutors to cost the handful of surviving death-camp personnel with complicity within the liquidation on the grounds of their membership in a legal group.

Mr. Gröning had volunteered for the Waffen SS in 1941 after coaching in civilian life as a financial institution teller, credentials that the SS decided certified him to tally the money and private valuables seized from Jews transported to Nazi-occupied Poland. “I’d by no means heard of Auschwitz earlier than,” he stated in 2005.

Throughout his time on the camp, from 1942 to 1944, his ledgers recorded Polish zlotys and Greek drachmas, French francs, Dutch guilders, Czech korunas, Italian lire — a variety of currencies that mirrored the attain of the marketing campaign to eradicate Europe’s Jews.

His remarks to interviewers, like his testimony a decade later at his trial close to his dwelling in Lüneburg, in northern Germany, provided macabre insights into the privileged life he and his comrades had loved of their quarters at Auschwitz, whilst freight trains arrived to disgorge Jews destined for extermination.


Mr. Gröning as a younger man within the Waffen SS. He maintained that he had solely a back-office function within the operation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau focus camp.

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Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, through Related Press

There have been tinned sardines, and bacon, vodka and rum, he recalled in an interview with the journal Der Spiegel in 2005 — gadgets denied to most German civilians, and, in fact, to the SS’s victims.

“We arrived in Auschwitz,” he recalled at his trial, “and there have been all this stuff that we had not seen for a very long time.”

One forex confiscated from Jewish victims was the American greenback; it was used for clandestine transactions amongst camp personnel. At one level, by his personal account, Mr. Gröning stole $30 from the sequestered funds to purchase a handgun from a corrupt guard.

In interviews and in his courtroom testimony, Mr. Gröning acknowledged being current on two events when Jews had been killed; in a single occasion, he stated, a camp guard smashed an deserted child’s head in opposition to the steel aspect of a truck. On the second event, he stated, Jews who had escaped and brought refuge in a farmhouse had been killed with the Zyklon B fuel used for the broader extermination.

“That was the one time I noticed an entire gassing,” he stated. “I didn’t participate.”

Twice, he maintained, he requested to be transferred from Auschwitz to fight duties. He equally acknowledged that his angle towards these whose cash he counted had been formed by his upbringing.

As a baby, he advised Der Spiegel in 2005, he had performed marbles on the street with Anne Selig, the daughter of a Jewish ironmonger whose retailer was subsequent to his dwelling. When Nazi storm troopers held up an indication exterior the store saying, “Germans, don’t purchase from Jews,” he stated, he was unmoved.

Certainly, so pervasive was the hatred of Jews that he recalled a music with the chorus: “When Jewish blood begins to drip from our knives, issues might be good once more.”

“Again then,” he stated, “we didn’t even take into consideration what we had been singing.”

He stated that all through his adolescence, as a member of ultranationalist actions together with the Hitler Youth, he had been raised to consider that Jews had been Germany’s enemy inside. His considerations about what he noticed at Auschwitz associated extra to the modalities of killing than to its rationale or supposed rules.

“He had sworn an oath of loyalty, he believed the Jews had been Germany’s enemy,” Mr. Rees, the BBC journalist, wrote in an article in 2015, “and he knew that he might nonetheless manipulate his life on the camp to keep away from encountering the worst of the horror.”

On the primary day of his trial — in a makeshift courtroom in an meeting corridor chosen to accommodate the crush of survivors, legal professionals, spectators and journalists — Mr. Gröning addressed the judge, Franz Kompisch, saying: “It’s past query that I’m morally complicit. This ethical guilt I acknowledge right here earlier than the victims with remorse and humility.”

However “as considerations guilt earlier than the regulation,” he added, “it’s essential to determine.”

Mr. Gröning appeared at his trial as a silver-haired previous man, a widower who discovered it tough to stroll unaided. Wartime pictures of him confirmed a self-confident and smiling younger man in thin-rimmed spectacles, sporting the dying’s-head emblem of the SS on his cap.

When the trial led to mid-July 2015, Decide Kompisch dominated that for all his protestations, Mr. Gröning himself had taken the choice to just accept “a secure desk job” at Auschwitz.


Mr. Gröning throughout a break in his trial in 2015. “The important, nearly horrifying, level about Oskar Gröning is that he is without doubt one of the least distinctive human beings you might be ever more likely to meet,” a journalist who interviewed him stated.

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Markus Schreiber/Related Press

“It was maybe affected by the period, but it surely was not since you had been unfree,” the decide stated, including that he “had freedom to suppose” and but “requested to hitch the SS.”

Oskar Gröning was born on June 10, 1921, at Nienburg, between Hanover and Bremen, in northern Germany. His mom died when he was four years previous, and he was raised by his father, a stern textile employee who had emerged from World Battle I with a deep sense of grievance on the phrases imposed on defeated Germany. Like others who shared his views, his father joined the Stahlhelm (Metal Helmet), an ultranationalist veterans’ group.

By Mr. Gröning’s account, his childhood was considered one of “self-discipline, obedience and authority.” He participated within the Stahlhelm’s youth motion earlier than becoming a member of the Hitler Youth. His formal education led to 1938, when he was 17, and he started coaching as a financial institution clerk. A 12 months later, struggle intervened.

His elder brother, Gerhard, died as a soldier close to Stalingrad in 1942, and Mr. Gröning married his brother’s fiancée, Irmgard. Their first son, additionally known as Gerhard, was born in 1944.

Mr. Gröning volunteered for the SS in 1941 throughout a recruitment drive at a resort close to his dwelling. After his service at Auschwitz he was despatched to hitch German forces within the Ardennes area, the place he was wounded. However he returned to his unit earlier than Germany’s give up in Could 1945.

His preliminary intuition gave the impression to be to keep away from mentioning his previous. On a questionnaire handed to prisoners by their British captors, he stated nothing about Auschwitz, he advised Mr. Rees in 2005, telling them that he had labored for an SS administrative workplace in Berlin.

In 1946 he was shipped to England as a compelled laborer, although he known as his life there “very snug.”

Again in West Germany in 1947, with a job in a glass manufacturing facility as his nation started its postwar revival, Mr. Gröning advised his household that the phrase Auschwitz and his connection to it “are by no means, ever to be talked about once more in my presence.”

“I by no means actually discovered internal peace,” he advised a German newspaper in 2013.

In 1977, a prosecutor in Frankfurt opened an inquiry into the actions of Mr. Gröning and 61 different SS members, solely to find out, eight years later, that there have been inadequate grounds for prosecution.

Mr. Gröning, a stamp collector, recalled later encountering a fellow philatelist, who advised him that the Holocaust didn’t occur, in response to accounts in Der Spiegel and elsewhere. He wrote a observe to the person saying: “I noticed all the things — the fuel chambers, the cremations, the choice course of. One and a half million Jews had been murdered in Auschwitz. I used to be there.”

In what some depict as a quest for exoneration, he wrote an 87-page memoir to his sons Gerhard and Wolfgang about his experiences. In 2005, he recorded 9 hours of taped interviews for a BBC documentary.

Later that very same 12 months, he advised Der Spiegel, “Guilt actually has to do with actions, and since I consider that I used to be not an lively perpetrator, I don’t consider that I’m responsible.”

A decade later, a court docket got here to a special conclusion.

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