Former SS guard: ‘Couldn’t imagine’ Jews surviving Auschwitz
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Former SS guard: ‘Couldn’t imagine’ Jews surviving Auschwitz

At trial, Oskar Groening tells court it was clear to him people were not expected to leave camp alive

Oskar Groening at the first day of his trial in Luneberg, Germany, to face charges of being an accomplice to the murder of 300,000 at Auschwitz, April 21, 2015 (Photo credit JTA/Andreas Tamme/Getty Images)
Oskar Groening at the first day of his trial in Luneberg, Germany, to face charges of being an accomplice to the murder of 300,000 at Auschwitz, April 21, 2015 (Photo credit JTA/Andreas Tamme/Getty Images)

BERLIN — A former Auschwitz guard being tried on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder has testified that it was clear to him Jews were not expected to leave the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland alive.

“I couldn’t imagine that” happening, former SS Sgt. Oskar Groening told the Lueneburg state court on Thursday during the third day of his trial, the dpa news agency reported.

The 93-year-old’s answer came in response to a question from attorneys representing Auschwitz survivors who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law.

On Wednesday Groening described in chilling detail how cattle cars full of Jews were brought to the Auschwitz death camp, the people stripped of their belongings and then most led directly into gas chambers.

The charges against Groening relate to a period between May and July 1944 when around 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in Nazi-occupied Poland and most immediately gassed to death.

During that period, so many trains were arriving that often two would have to wait with closed doors as the first was “processed,” Groening testified at the Lueneburg state court.

“The capacity of the gas chambers and the capacity of the crematoria were quite limited. Someone said that 5,000 people were processed in 24 hours but I didn’t verify this. I didn’t know,” he said. “For the sake of order we waited until train 1 was entirely processed and finished.”

Auschwitz survivors describe their arrival as chaotic, with Nazi guards yelling orders, dogs barking and families being ripped apart.

But Groening, 93, maintained the opposite, saying “it was very orderly and not as strenuous” on the ramp at Birkenau.

“The process was the same as Auschwitz I. The only difference was that there were no trucks,” he said during the second day of his trial. “They all walked — some in one direction, some in another direction… to where the crematoria and gas chambers were.”

Pleas are not entered in the German system. On the first day of his trial Tuesday, Groening acknowledged sharing in “moral guilt” but said the court will have to determine if he is legally guilty.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

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