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Former Nazi Guard Goes on Trial in Germany

  • VOA News

A visitor walks between electric barbed-wired fences at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and former concentration camp November 18, 2013.

A visitor walks between electric barbed-wired fences at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and former concentration camp November 18, 2013.

A 94-year-old former guard at Europe's most notorious concentration camp has gone on trial in Germany, where he faces 170,000 counts of accessory to murder.

Reinhold Hanning has said he served at Auschwitz as a 20-year-old member of the German SS guard, but insists he served in a part of the camp where no gassings took place.

Auschwitz is infamous as the camp where most of the gassings of Jews, gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, and other concentration camp inmates took place. More than one million people are believed to have been murdered at Auschwitz during World War Two. Prisoners were also shot to death or hanged. Many others died of illness or starvation.

Prosecutors in Hanning's case say all who participated in the administration of Auschwitz are responsible for the deaths, particularly in the so-called "Hungarian action" of 1944. At that time, thousands of Hungarian Jews were forced into the camp at the same time, compelling nearly all members of the Auschwitz staff to assist with the processing and extermination of the new inmates.

Three survivors of Auschwitz are expected to testify at Hanning's trial. On Thursday, 94-year-old Leon Schwarzbaum is expected to give testimony. It is unclear whether Hanning himself will make a statement.

Of the 6,500 former SS guards who served at Auschwitz, fewer than 50 have been convicted. But last year's ruling in the high-profile trial of a man known as "the bookkeeper of Auschwitz" set a precedent for other trials of former Nazi guards solely on the basis of their having served at the camps.

Following Hanning's case, at least two others are to be heard this year before German courts.

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