96-year-old German "accountant of Auschwitz" dies before imprisonment

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Oskar Groening, defendant and former Nazi SS officer dubbed the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz" leaves the court after the announcement of his verdict in Lueneburg, Germany, July 15, 2015.

Hannover prosecutor Kathrin Soefker said a lawyer informed her office that Oskar Groening, 96, died Friday in a hospital.

A former Nazi SS guard dubbed the "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz" has died aged 96 almost three years after his conviction for being an accessory to murder, German media said Monday. The office is awaiting an official death certificate, Soefker said.

Groening, who was sentenced to four years in prison for his crimes, died without spending a day serving his term. Groening was nicknamed the "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz" based on counting the amount of the victims' money when they arrived at the concentration camp and sending the bank notes to Berlin.

He had yet to begin his sentence.

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His trial went to the heart of the question of whether people who were minor participants in the Nazi atrocities, but did not actively participate in the killing of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, were themselves guilty.

At least 1.1 million people were killed in the camps at Auschwitz, the vast majority of them Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide, but also Poles, gay people, disabled people and other persecuted minorities.

In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel in 2005, Groening said he felt "nothing" when he saw Jews being taken to the gas chamber.

The legal basis for prosecuting former Nazis changed in 2011 with Germany's landmark conviction of former death camp guard John Demjanjuk.

For decades after the war, German courts argued that the top Nazi leadership was principally to blame for the mass murder of Jews and that lower-ranking individuals in the Holocaust machinery were bound by a chain of command and, therefore, less culpable.

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