It is 93-year-old Oskar Gröning, in a courtroom in Lüneburg, Germany, on trial for complicity in the murder of thousands when he was an S.S. guard in Auschwitz between 1942 and 1944. The trial started on April 20. The prosecutors assert that, irrespective of his actual participation in any killings, he was a willing cog in the machinery of mass murder. The trial is regarded as part of a final effort by German officials to bring to account those who actively supported the Nazi campaign of genocide against Jews and other minority groups.
Gröning had the responsibility for sorting and counting the multitude of currencies taken from arriving deportees, sending it to Berlin, and guarding the belongings of arrivals, to prevent “plundering.” He denies having participated in any physical act of violence.
He admitted moral guilt for his complicity and asked God and the Jews to forgive him.
The media refer to Gröning as “the Auschwitz accountant.”
So what does his face reveal? Certainly not brutality. But I think it is the face of a dense man, of a man who has trouble grasping the implications of the role he was playing. It is the face of a man who is not only hard of hearing, but a man who is deaf all round.
Der Spiegel, in covering the trial, reports that it was almost unendurable to hear him describe the arrival of the cattle-trains from Hungary. “Surely it is not hard to imagine,” he said, “what it is like when 45 or 50 railway cars arrive at the same time, with 80 persons in each one of them.” He emphasized that it was of the greatest importance to prevent any “incidents.” People were to be “taken care of” in a disciplined and orderly manner.
That, he said, was the only way to run a concentration camp.