LUENEBURG, Germany — A 93-year-old former bookkeeper at Auschwitz went on trial in Germany on Tuesday, accused by prosecutors of being an accessory in the murder of 300,000 people at the notorious Nazi death camp.
The trial of Oskar Groening, who was 21 and by his own admission an enthusiastic Nazi when he was sent to work at Auschwitz in 1942, is significant because it may be one of the last big Holocaust trials. Seventy years after the end of World War II very few suspected Nazi criminals are still alive.
Groening is not accused of being involved in any actual killing. The case is also unusual because Groening, unlike many of the other SS men and women who worked at concentration camps, has spoken openly about his time at Auschwitz in interviews, in part, he says, to counter Holocaust denial.
He has talked in detail about the horrible crimes he witnessed at the camp, but because he never killed anyone, he sees himself as legally innocent.
Groening's job at Auschwitz was to collect the belongings of deportees after they had arrived at the camp by train and already been put through a selection process that resulted in many being sent directly to the gas chambers.
He inspected their luggage, removing and counting any bank notes that were inside, and sending them on to SS offices in Berlin, where they helped to fund the Nazi war effort.
Thomas Walter, a lawyer for survivors who are plaintiffs in the case, told reporters before the start of the trial that the aim was to "give back some dignity which they lost forever in the gas chambers of Auschwitz."
Groening's lawyer Hans Holtermann says his client's actions did not go far enough to make him an accessory to murder.
The charges against Groening relate to the period between May and July 1944 when 137 trains carrying roughly 425,000 Jews from Hungary arrived in Auschwitz.
At least 300,000 of them were sent straight to the gas chambers, the indictment says. Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.