Former German death camp guard, 96, submits new clemency bid
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Former German death camp guard, 96, submits new clemency bid

Ex-SS guard Oskar Groening convicted in 2015 as an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews at Auschwitz

Former Nazi SS officer Oskar Groening listens to the verdict of his trial on July 15, 2015 at court in Lueneburg, northern Germany. (AFP / POOL/ AXEL HEIMKEN)
Former Nazi SS officer Oskar Groening listens to the verdict of his trial on July 15, 2015 at court in Lueneburg, northern Germany. (AFP / POOL/ AXEL HEIMKEN)

BERLIN — A former Auschwitz death camp guard has submitted a fresh request for clemency in a bid to avoid serving his sentence for accessory to murder.

German news agency dpa reported Thursday that officials say former SS sergeant Oskar Groening has asked Lower Saxony’s justice minister to spare him from going to prison.

A previous clemency request filed to prosecutors was rejected in January.

The 96-year-old — known as the bookkeeper of Auschwitz — was convicted in Lueneburg in 2015 as an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews and sentenced to four years in prison. He hasn’t yet spent any time behind bars because of the appeals process. His lawyer says Groening is too frail to go to prison.

Germany’s highest court rejected his last legal appeal in December.

More than one million European Jews were killed at Auschwitz before it was liberated by Soviet forces.

Yet of the camp’s 6,500 SS personnel who survived the war, fewer than 50 were ever convicted. Groening worked as an accountant at Auschwitz, sorting and counting the money taken from those killed or used as slave labor, and shipping it back to his Nazi superiors in Berlin.

Jewish women and children from Subcarpathian Rus await selection on the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, May 1944. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Yad Vashem [Public Domain])
He was also on several occasions assigned to “ramp duty,” processing deportees as they arrived by rail in cattle cars.

During his trial, Groening acknowledged “moral guilt” but said it was up to the court to rule on his legal culpability.

He had previously been cleared by German authorities after lengthy criminal probes dating back to the 1970s. But a case was reopened against him after the legal basis for prosecuting former Nazis changed in 2011, with Germany’s landmark conviction of John Demjanjuk.

Demjanjuk, a former death camp guard, was sentenced not for atrocities he was known to have personally committed, but on the basis that he worked at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland and had thus been a cog in the Nazis’ killing machine.

Demjanjuk died in 2012 before his appeal could be heard, but that verdict spurred new investigations against several elderly former Nazis.

Among a handful of convictions since has been that of Reinhold Hanning, found guilty of complicity in the mass murders at Auschwitz. He died aged 95 this year, before he could serve his jail term.

A case against former SS medic Hubert Zafke collapsed in September after the court found that the 96-year-old was unfit to stand trial.

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