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Auschwitz expert slams Nazi justice record

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Auschwitz expert slams Nazi justice record
Photo: DPA
13:11 CEST+02:00
Oskar Gröning, 93, a former Nazi known as the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz", goes on trial in Germany on Tuesday in what could be the last Nazi war crimes trial while an expert calls the country's judicial record 'miserable'.

Some 50 Auschwitz survivors will attend proceedings as co-plaintiffs or witnesses in the trial in the northern city of Lüneburg near Hamburg.

AFP posed three questions about the trial to German writer Christoph Heubner, vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, who will be in the courtroom.

Q: What do you expect from this trial?

A: A measure of justice, media attention and a message to Germany and the world. The legal treatment (of the Holocaust) has been an absolute disaster, a dirty stain on the name of our country.

Seventy years after Auschwitz we still have to have trials because the German judiciary has failed miserably on the issue. Many perpetrators never saw the inside of a courtroom and died without having been confronted with their guilt. This is an enduring scandal that has caused great indignation among the survivors.

About 50 Auschwitz survivors will be there as joint plaintiffs, and some of them will testify as witnesses. That's very important for them.

Many survivors have talked to German youths, with political parties in Germany, in school classes. But a court is a place where justice is handed down, where human rights are defended, where eyewitness accounts gain legal weight.

The trial is also important because it sends a signal to people who are involved in genocides today. Time may pass, but the day of judgement will come.

Q: Oskar Gröning has spoken at length about his past. How do you assess his level of contrition and his attitude?

A: He has taken a number of steps. He is a special case. He has shared much of what he saw at Auschwitz as an eyewitness. But he hasn't dared to take the next step, he has rejected admitting his complicity in running this death factory. "I saw it, but I did not make myself culpable," he says.

A small cog in a large machinery of murder also plays a role in the murders, and the court will confront him with this guilt.

Whether Mr Gröning will ever see a prison from the inside, whether his health permits incarceration, is secondary. The important thing is that the trial takes place.

Q: This could be the last Nazi war crimes trial in Germany. How has the German judicial system dealt with bringing to justice the perpetrators?

A: Miserably, it's an ongoing scandal of postwar history. In Germany a total of 43 SS men have faced court, nine received life sentences, 25 were sent to prison, and the rest were acquitted. This is out of about 6,500 people from the SS concentration camps who were alive at the end of the war. You can see that only a tiny percentage ever faced prosecution.

The perpetrators essentially returned to the society they came from. They disappeared back into their old neighbourhoods. For many years no one cared about what they had done. For the survivors it's a bitter fact that there was so little interest and so little was done in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

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