A 93-year-old German man has been charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder for serving as an SS guard in the Nazi’s notorious Auschwitz death camp, prosecutors said Monday.
The Associated Press reports Oskar Groening is accused of helping operate the camp in German-occupied Poland in May and June of 1944. During that time nearly 425,000 Hungarian Jews were brought to the camp and at least 300,000 were killed in the camp’s gas chambers.
Groening has spoken openly about his experience in the camp but has always denied that he was in any way involved in the actual killings.
In a 2005 interview with Der Spiegel magazine, Groening said he would stop short of referring to himself as an “accomplice” to murder.
“Accomplice would almost be too much for me,” he said. “I would describe my role as a 'small cog in the gears.' If you can describe that as guilt, then I am guilty, but not voluntarily. Legally speaking, I am innocent.”
He described, in that same interview, atrocities he witnessed while working at the camp, including an instance of a baby crying while he was on “ramp duty.”
“I saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs …” he said. “He smashed the baby's head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.”
Groening’s job at Auschwitz was to collect money and belongings from the Jewish people as they were processed into the camp. He kept a tally of the money that was stolen.
“He helped the Nazi regime benefit economically, and supported the systematic killings,” state prosecutors in the German city of Hannover said in their statement.
Groening’s attorney, Hans Holtermann, has not commented on the charges.
A new precedent in German law has allowed for the prosecution of former Auschwitz guards. Groening is one of 30 known guards recommended by German prosecutors to stand trial.
Thomas Walther is an attorney who represents about 20 Auschwitz victims and their families. He described Groening’s pending trial as the families’ last chance “to participate in bringing justice to one of the SS men who had a part in the murder of their closest relatives.”
The former guard is the fourth person from the Hannover area to face these types of charges. Two of those trials have been put on hold because the suspects were deemed, for health reasons, unfit to stand trial. Another trial was called off because the elderly suspect died.