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‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz’ Describes Camp in Chilling Detail

Former SS guard Oskar Groening steps out of a car as he arrives at the back entrance of the court hall prior to a trail against him in Lueneburg, northern Germany, April 21, 2015.

In the second day of his trial in Germany, a former Auschwitz guard detailed Wednesday how cattle cars full of Jews arrived at the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, how they were stripped of their belongings, and how most were then gassed to death.

Oskar Groening is charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, related to the 300,000 Jews killed at Auschwitz in May and June 1944 after some 425,000 Jews were transported to the camp from Hungary.

The now 93-year-old former Nazi SS guard faces three to 15 years in prison if convicted. The trial is scheduled to last through July.

The German press had dubbed Groening, who served at the camp from 1942 to 1944, the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz" for what he says was his main task: collecting and counting money seized from death camp inmates.

‘I share moral guilt’

"For me there's no question that I share moral guilt," Groening told the judges Tuesday at the opening of the trial in the German city of Lueneburg, near Hamburg. About 70 Holocaust survivors and victims' relatives attended.

Groening admitted he knew about the gassing of prisoners, most of them Jews. He asked "for forgiveness," adding that the court would have to decide on his "culpability."

Given the advanced age of most Nazi war crimes suspects, Groening is likely to be among the last to face justice for the atrocities committed more than 70 years ago.

Groening, who volunteered for the Nazi Waffen-SS in 1940, has talked openly about the time he served as the “bookkeeper” at Auschwitz. According to prosecutors, he was tasked with counting the banknotes found in prisoners’ belongings and passing them to SS authorities in Berlin. He has admitted having witnessed atrocities, but denies having committed any himself.

One of about 30 left

Groening is one of about 30 former Auschwitz personnel that the German office investigating Nazi war crimes has recommended for prosecution.

About 70 Holocaust survivors or relatives of the victims have joined the case as co-plaintiffs and many are attending the trial.

For more than 60 years German courts had prosecuted as Nazi war criminals only those accused of having personally committed atrocities. But a landmark court ruling in Munich in 2011 made it possible to bring to justice even those who aided in the extermination of Jews. In that case, John Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison for complicity in the extermination of Jews at the Sobibor camp (also in Nazi-occupied Poland), where he had served as a prison guard.

More than 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland between June 1940 and January 1945, as part of the "Final Solution," Adolf Hitler's plan to exterminate Europe's Jews. About 1.1 million of them, mainly Jews, perished in the gas chambers or from harsh treatment, starvation and disease. In all, the Nazis killed an estimated six million of pre-war Europe's 11 million Jews.

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