'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz' submits final request for clemency

Despite continuing efforts to put Nazi war criminals on trial, the old age and failing health of suspected perpetrators often prove to be a stumbling block for prosecutors.

March 2, 2018 10:11
2 minute read.
'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz' submits final request for clemency

Oskar Groening, defendant and former Nazi SS officer dubbed the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz", is pictured in the courtroom during his trial in Lueneburg, Germany, July 15, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS/AXEL HEIMKEN/POOL)


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A former Auschwitz guard convicted as an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews at the German death camp has submitted a final request for clemency.

Germany’s Lower Saxony Justice Ministry confirmed on Thursday receipt of the clemency request from Oskar Groening, 96, also known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” who in 2015 was sentenced to four years in prison for his crimes.

Groening earned the nickname because of his work as an accountant at Auschwitz between May and July 1944, sorting and counting money and valuables seized from prisoners and victims of the camp. Money seized was then shipped to SS headquarters in Berlin to fund the Nazi war effort.

The former guard is yet to begin his sentence due to an ongoing legal dispute over his health, with his lawyer repeatedly arguing that his age and frail health are grounds for a pardon.

Groening’s final appeal for clemency will be decided by Lower Saxony Justice Minister Barbara Havliza of the Christian Democratic Union party. A Justice Ministry spokesman said that Havliza was not subject to any time limits in making the decision.

In January, an appeal to the Luneburg prosecutor’s office for clemency on health grounds was rejected. In December 2017, Germany’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, rejected a petition for Groening’s sentence to be suspended and it was expected that he would be called to begin his jail term.

During his trial, Groening expressed regret over his actions at Auschwitz. “It is without question that I am morally complicit in the murder of millions of Jews through my activities at Auschwitz. Before the victims, I also admit to this moral guilt here, with regret and humility,” he said.

Despite continuing efforts to put Nazi war criminals on trial, the old age and failing health of suspected perpetrators often prove to be a stumbling block for prosecutors.

In September 2017, prosecutors threw out the case of a former SS medic accused of 3,681 counts of accessory to murder at Auschwitz after being deemed unfit to stand trial.

A spokesman for the Neubrandenburg regional prosecutor’s office said Hubert Zafke, 96 and diagnosed with dementia, was no longer able to  “reasonably assess his interests or coherently follow or give testimony.”

In June 2017, Reinhold Hanning, a 95-year-old former Auschwitz SS guard convicted by a German court in June 2016 of being an accessory to the murder of more than 170,000 people, died before entering prison for his five-year sentence.

Hanning had appealed the ruling and, at the time of his death, the conviction was not legally binding as his appeal was still pending.

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