A former SS guard dubbed the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz” on Tuesday admitted his moral guilt over the mass murder of at least 300,000 Jews at the Nazi death camp, local media reported.
In a lengthy court statement, Oskar Groening, 93, pleaded for forgivene ss for his role at the camp in Poland that became a byword for the horrors of NaziGermany.
“I ask for forgiveness,” he told the judges in Luneburg, northern Germany, DPA news agency reported. “I share morally in the guilt but whether I am guilty under criminal law, you will have to decide.”
Groening is charged with complicity in the murders of Jews between May and June 1944, when around 420,000 arrived at the camp from Hungary. At least 300,000 were gassed to death shortly after arrival.
In a 50-minute address, Groening told the court how he arrived at Auschwitz in 1942 aged 21 after volunteering for the SS. He was assigned to collect money and claimed that although he witnessed masskillings, he never had a direct role.
Around 60 Auschwitz survivors and relatives of Holocaust victims were in court to hear his statement. They are the co-plaintiffs in the high-profile case, which is expected to be one of the last Nazi war crime trials.
Groening’s role as a guard was known in the 1970s but an investigation was abandoned in 1985 when prosecutors ruled there was no proof he was directly responsible for the deaths of prisoners.
However, a ruling in a separate case in 2011 paved the way for prosecuting Nazi guards not directly linked to killings.
Of the 6,500 former SS members who served at Auschwitz and survived the war, 49 have been convicted in German courts.
Groening claimed that he requested a transfer when he learned about the killings but was not moved. He faces between three and 15 years imprisonment if convicted.