Oskar Gröning, 96, was sentenced to prison for his role in the murder of 300,000 people at Auschwitz death camp. He was likely the last surviving Nazi war criminal to face trial.
The former SS guard at Auschwitz death camp, Gröning, died before serving his four-year sentence for aiding and abetting the murder of 300,000 people during the Holocaust.
The so-called “bookkeeper of Auschwitz” passed away on March 9 at the age of 96, according to Germany’s Spiegel magazine. His death was first reported on Monday.
Gröning voluntarily joined the SS, the armed wing of Nazi party, at the age of 21. His task in Auschwitz was to sort and assess money and valuables taken from prisoners before sending it on to Berlin. During the 2015 trial, Gröning told the court he felt a “moral guilt” for his service in Auschwitz, but denied personal involvement in mass murder.
He was declared guilty and sentenced to four years. However, his lawyers asked for the sentence to be suspended on the basis of the defendant’s advanced age. Germany’s top court denied the request in December 2017. He was declared fit to serve his sentence, but had not yet been jailed.
With most Nazi war criminals long dead, Gröning was likely the last Holocaust perpetrator to face justice.
Fewer than 50 of the 6,500 SS troopers who served in the Auschwitz concentration camp were ever convicted, according to information published by Der Spiegel.
‘I ask the Jewish people for forgiveness’
Gröning’s death was not immediately confirmed by the Justice Ministry of the German state of Lower Saxony, where the Gröning trial took place.
However, officials told the AFP news agency that they had received a letter from Gröning’s lawyer on Monday. According to the letter, “Mr. Gröning reportedly died last Friday,” they said.
In 2005, Gröning told Der Spiegel that he did not believe he was “legally” guilty for the crimes committed by the Nazi death machine.
“I do feel guilty before the Jewish people, because I was part of a troop that committed these crimes, even though I was not a perpetrator. I ask the Jewish people for forgiveness,” he said.
dj/kms (AFP, dpa)