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The Trial of Oskar Groening
Rabbi Benjamin Blech

The Trial of Oskar Groening

Justice is not being served.


Seven decades after the Holocaust, in a small courthouse in Luneburg Germany, a trial that is probably the last of its kind is making headlines around the world.

Oskar Groening is being tried on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, related to a period between May and July 1944 when around 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in Nazi-occupied Poland and almost immediately gassed to death. Groening, known as “the accountant of Auschwitz”, faithfully fulfilled his duty as SS-Unterscharführer, collecting the cash that doomed Hungarian Jews carried with them to the place of their extermination and seeing to its shipment to Berlin to give financial backing to the final solution of genocide. For his role, this now 93-year-old faces 6 to 15 years if convicted.

I must make a painful confession. Much as I rejoiced at the capture of Eichmann and his execution in Israel and much as I found a great measure of satisfaction in the past by verdicts of guilt and punishment – admittedly all too few – for those involved in the barbaric crimes of the Holocaust, I am troubled by the rationales now being stressed for the importance of this particular trial.

Does it make any sense to be told that we need again to hear the testimony of witnesses as well as the admission of the defendant in order to refute the claims of Holocaust deniers? To continue an argument with those who refuse to accept historic fact is to grant an undeserved measure of truth to an absurdity, as if it were worthy of debate and further discussion. Deniers are no better than spokesman for the Flat Earth Society who deserve only laughter, not a public hearing which grants them legitimacy as worthy intellectual opponents.

Yes, Oskar Groening publicly admitted, "I saw everything. The gas chambers, the cremations, the selection process. One and a half million Jews were murdered in Auschwitz. I was there." But we did not really need him to tell us that. Indeed, Ursula Haverbeck, one of Germany’s more infamous Holocaust deniers, was in court for Groening’s initial testimony and after listening to his detailed description of what happened in the camp, not unexpectedly commented, “He’s been turned.”

For those interested in truth, the facts have long ago been established; for those motivated by irrational hatred of Jews and of Israel, no amount of irrefutable proof will suffice to open the closed minds of haters.

To be gratified by Groening’s confessions to the horrors that took place at Auschwitz is almost as if one were previously unsure of the truth previously documented by hundreds of survivors and eyewitnesses.

But there is another and more important reason being trumpeted as cause for rejoicing for this long-delayed trial. At last, we are told, we can feel that justice is finally being done in the country responsible for one of the most unspeakable crimes of history. It will serve, it’s been suggested in several articles, as a fitting closure to the Nazi sins of the twentieth century.

6500 members of the SS worked at Auschwitz. To date only 49 have been convicted of crimes.

And that is precisely why I feel so devastated by this implicit insult to the memory of the six million.

The Groening trial is being showcased as vivid demonstration of Germany’s concern for bringing the guilty to punishment. Yet what it proves sends precisely the opposite message.

The year is now 2015. The legal action against Groening somehow never found its way to the court for countless decades. All the while, records indicate that about 6500 members of the SS worked at Auschwitz – and that was merely one of the many factories of death which carried out the fiendish designs of the final solution. Of those, to date only 49 have been convicted of crimes.

Remarkable, too, is the nature of the crimes attributed to Groening in comparison to those who somehow have escaped judicial notice, having lived out their lives in serenity and in all probability blessed prosperity. Groening pleads that he was not actively involved in the murders, the beatings, the gassing and the tortures of Auschwitz. He admits that he shares in the moral guilt but feels that does not make him culpable under law. True, by all accounts, even his own reflections on his past, he is not an innocent.

But should we not ask what happened to all the others who somehow escaped the scrutiny of the courts, the inquiries of the authorities, the investigations of the legal system charged with bringing to justice not simply those who bureaucratically assisted the machinery of evil but who brutally carried out its heinous cruelties?

Is it not a travesty of the very word justice if the most that German courts can succeed in accomplishing after these many years of indifferent pursuit of the truly guilty is to convict a 93-year-old concentration camp accountant while the many tens of thousands of sadistic beasts who carried out the horrific acts which defined Nazi cruelty and inhumaneness never paid a price for their sins?

And if Groening is found guilty and sentenced, while all those who actually carried out the crimes of the death camps escaped judicial notice, would not the greatest tragedy of all be for the world to offer its final judgment on the Holocaust with the false pronouncement that in the end justice was served?

April 25, 2015

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Visitor Comments: 50

(37) Anonymous, March 29, 2016 12:28 PM

Send him to prison and put Jewish themes as to torture him...

He deserves death. Though, it will not be done so he should be in prison and hear all day and all night Jewish music, Jews speaking Yiddish and Hebrew, Holocaust movies that show what happened there and more. He will go nuts and kills himself. After all, he cooperated and knew what was going there. This should be done by placing cds that play over and over again this music. This would be a micro revenge for what he did. We should never forgive and never forget for what was done there!!! The few Nazis left should be found and killed or rotten in jail by torture!

(36) Anonymous, June 28, 2015 6:40 PM

A reason to treat Groening leniently

Groening took part in a documentary film some time ago. He was factual and appeared unemotional; however, when asked why he was participating, he got angry and said that it was because people denied what had happened, whereas he was there and saw it all. And he wanted to testify that it really did take place so that everyone should know.

This must have required some courage: he could have disappeared like so many.

Patrick Dempsey, July 22, 2015 9:25 AM


This is as impossible as it is necessary. This is NOT about retribution, but about Justice. Groening was complicit of Murder. Jews from Birth to their 80's/90's were Murdered. We need to know all that Goening knew to counter the growing denial.

(35) Anonymous, June 14, 2015 9:52 PM

There is no adequate punishment for the Shoah.

As there is no adequate punishment for the Shoah, all that remains is retribution.

The German courts that sat in judgement after the war of those that murdered our kith and kin sentenced the few that were actually found guilty to SIX HOURS IMPRISONMENT for their complicity in each Jew killed.

If the crime was not so serious one could look on such a sentence as a mockery. Apart from confirming the atrocities is achieved nothing. After 70 years that man may have repented of his involvement and in that case not sentencing him will achieve more rejection of the allegations of haters against Jews than his punishment.

Yes, we know that the murderers showed not mercy, even for babies and old people. Let us deny their allegations against Jews and show the world that we are different.

Nothing positive can be achieved by jailing this man.

(34) Donald Krausz, June 14, 2015 9:31 PM

There cannot be justice for 6 million murders.

There cannot be justice for 6 million murders nor can there be forgiveness. A more profound example would be mercy for this man, whether he remains a Nazi or not.

If still convinced of the righteousness of the Nazis then that can only be a reflection on himself and a condemnation by all righteous people and Germans who do not wish to feel ashamed of their nationality. I have come across them.

And if Jews show mercy then that will confirm their nobility and confound all those who have branded them as the world's most evil.

And what were the sentences passed by postwar German courts on guilty Nazis? Six hours imprisonment for being complicit in every Jew murdered under their jurisdiction?

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