Survivors of Auschwitz have asked Germany’s highest court to resolve the case of a former SS soldier who was convicted of complicity in the murder of 300,000 Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust.
While the German authorities have pursued prosecution cases of suspected former Nazis with greater intensity, “Auschwitz survivors do not have as much time as German justice,” said Roman Kent, 90, the New York-based president of the International Auschwitz Committee, a nongovernmental group that unites Holocaust survivors.
Oskar Goening on trial
The former SS soldier, Oskar Groening, now 95, went on trial in April 2015 and was sentenced in July 2015 to four years in prison for accessory to murder while serving at Auschwitz death camp. Among other things which emerged in the trail, Groening also used his position to confiscate money and jewels from arriving prisoners.
His lawyers and those representing some of the dozens of co-plaintiffs in the case appealed the decision. However, due to technical reasons the arrival of the case at Germany’s Federal Court of Justice was delayed.
The appeal was formally received on March 22, said Erna Besirovic, a justice official at the court in Karlsruhe.“The case is pending,” she said, with no date set for a hearing or other action.
Mr. Kent, one of the 80 Holocaust survivors and Christoph Heubner, the vice president of the Berlin-based International Auschwitz Committee, said that the elderly had taken some comfort from belated justice Groeing’s case and that of another former SS guard, Reinhold Hanning, who was sentenced in June to five years as an accessory to 170,000 cases of murder.
The two men were among a handful whom Germany’s central office for prosecuting Nazi crimes deem fit to stand trial despite their age.
For decades, former guards at Auschwitz and other death camps eluded prosecution since the German justice authority determined that they could only be prosecuted providing that concrete witness evidence could link them to specific criminal acts.
This approach however, changed with the trial of John Demjanjuk, a former guard at the Sobibor camp who lived and worked in the United States for many years and who was eventually sentenced to five years by a Munich court in 2011. His trial set a precedent making way for the arraignment of other suspected former Nazis.
Reinhold Hanning in court (צילום: רויטרס)
Mr. Heubner, who has worked at the International Auschwitz Committee for 20 years, said that the survivors whose hope had been renewed in the German justice system following the trials of Groening and Hanning were losing faith once more.
These co-plaintiffs had “a great new impression of Germany,” Mr. Heubner said. Now, “it is like being plunged into a bath of cold water; suddenly, again, nothing is happening.”
He added in a statement that, survivors “are harshly critical of German justice, whose almost complete inaction regarding the judgment of SS perpetrators they had to follow for decades.”
The central office for prosecuting Nazi crimes in Ludwigsburg continues to pursue cases, announcing only last week that it would seek the prosecution of four former male guards and four women who worked in administration at the Stutthof camp, near Gdansk, Poland.
Last week, the justice authorities confirmed a finding that a 92-year-old woman in north Germany who had served as a radio operator in Auschwitz was not fit to stand trial on charges of complicity in the murder of 260,000 prisoners.
In April, a former SS guard at Auschwitz who was scheduled to go on trial in Hanau, near Frankfurt, died days before his case was set to open.