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Former Auschwitz guard asks God for forgiveness at trial

A 94-year-old former SS sergeant who served in Auschwitz testified Wednesday in Germany that he helped the death camp function in his role sorting cash and valuables seized from Jews after they arrived in cattle cars.

Oskar Groening told the Lueneburg state court in a statement read by his attorney that it was hard today to understand the blind obedience he had to the Nazi system even when witnessing the terrible atrocities perpetrated at the death camp in German-occupied Poland.

“There was a self-denial in me that today I find impossible to explain,” Groening said. “Perhaps it was also the convenience of obedience with which we were brought up, which allowed no contradiction. This indoctrinated obedience prevented registering the daily atrocities as such and rebelling against them.”

Groening is accused of helping Auschwitz function in his job at the camp for which the German press has dubbed him the “Accountant of Auschwitz.” He guarded prisoners’ baggage on the ramps, but his main task was to collect and tally money stolen from the new arrivals and then send it to Berlin.

Though pleas are not entered in the German system, as Groening’s trial on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder opened in April he told the court he felt a moral guilt for what he had done. He faces a possible three to 15 years in prison if convicted.

In his statement, Groening said even though he had known what was going on at Auschwitz, the personal stories of the co-plaintiffs during the trial had brought home the enormity of the atrocities.

“I can only ask my God for forgiveness,” he said.

— AP

Oskar Groening, center, being led into the courtroom for his trial in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (photo credit: Philipp Schulze/Pool/AP)
Oskar Groening, center, being led into the courtroom for his trial in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (photo credit: Philipp Schulze/Pool/AP)

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