Gröning says ‘I’m sorry,’ as Auschwitz verdict to be delivered earlier t...
Deutsche Welle - German politics - Germany - Nazi Trials

Gröning says ‘I’m sorry,’ as Auschwitz verdict to be delivered earlier than expected

The verdict in the trial of 94-year-old Oskar Gröning, the so-called “accountant of Auschwitz,” will be delivered on Wednesday morning, a full week earlier than expected. Ben Knight reports from Lüneburg.

In a quick-paced morning in the court in the northern German city of Lüneburg on Tuesday – because of the defendant’s advanced age, court sessions in the trial are limited to three hours a day – the chief judge Franz Kompisch heard the final four summings up of the various lawyers for the co-plaintiffs, and then ordered the defense counsel to deliver its summing up immediately afterwards, though Gröning’s lawyer Hans Holtermann had evidently not been expecting to present his closing argument till Wednesday.

At the end of the session, Gröning was also invited to speak, but kept his comments brief. “[Prosecutor] Mr Nestler said that Auschwitz was a place where you could not simply take part. I agree with that,” he said. “I sincerely regret that I did not recognize that earlier. I am truly sorry. Otherwise I have nothing to add to the defense counsel’s statement.”

In conclusion, the judge then surprised many in the court by announcing that the verdict would be delivered on Wednesday morning.

Old investigations

The defense counsel’s summing up, delivered by both Holtermann and then Susanne Frangenberg, concentrated on the fact that Gröning had already been the subject of an investigation in 1978, which had been dropped.

The current trial came about as a result of a new precedent set by the conviction of John Demjanjuk in Munich in 2011 – another self-professed “small cog in the machine” – who worked as a guard at the death camp Sobibor during World War Two.

Frangenberg argued that this delay of 37 years in Gröning’s case had seriously impacted the latter’s capacity to defend himself. Holtermann said afterwards, “He would have defended himself better because he was younger and fitter then, and it may have been easier to obtain certain documents.”

Gröning testified that he applied to be transferred out of Auschwitz on three separate occasions, but no evidence has ever been found. During the trial, a historian called into question Gröning’s claim on the grounds that applications to be transferred to the front were always granted to able-bodied officers such as him.

The defense also argued that because Gröning had cooperated fully with prosecutors during the 1978 investigation and the current trial, and in view of the fact that the German justice system had taken 37 years to consider his case, he should be acquitted.

Nazi and neo-Nazi trials

The most notable summing up on the co-plaintiff side was delivered by the lawyer Mehmet Daimagüler, who is also representing the relatives of two murder victims at the trial in Munich of Beate Zschäpe, a member of the neo-Nazi terror group National Socialist Underground.

He duly used his statement, in which he spoke for two other lawyers as well as himself, to remind the court that Auschwitz and other Nazi atrocities are rooted in a racism and anti-Semitism that are still present in Germany and in Europe today, referencing both the NSU murders and the PEGIDA demonstrations in Dresden.

“I have the feeling that there is an unwillingness, along the lines of, ‘What’s the point of all this, can’t we finally draw a line under this, do we have to do it?’ And I think yes, it has to be – I think it is more necessary now than ever,” Daimagüler said.

Daimagüler also saw parallels in the underlying issues behind the two trials. “In both cases it’s about the failures of the state,” he told DW. “In the Lüneburg trial, the question was what have we done understand the Nazi times? The role of the state as an educational machinery was too little, much too little. And in the Munich trial it’s the question: What did the state do to protect a section of its population? In this case, migrants. And here again we have to say: too little.”