Former Auschwitz guard, 94, goes on trial in Germany

DETMOLD, Germany -- A 94-year-old former SS sergeant went on trial Thursday in western Germany on 170,000 counts of accessory to murder, based on accusations that he served as a guard in the Auschwitz death camp as hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews and others were gassed to death there.

See Full Article

Reinhold Hanning seemed in good condition for his age, walking into the court in the city of Detmold without even the help of a cane and appearing to listen attentively as the indictment against him was read aloud.

No pleas are entered in the German system. Hanning, who ran a local dairy after the war until he retired in 1984, declined to give an opening statement to the court.

He showed no reaction as the first witness, Leon Schwarzbaum, a 94-year-old Auschwitz survivor, read moving testimony about his own experiences, then looked directly at Hanning and made an emotional plea.

"Mr. Hanning, we are about the same age and we will both soon be before the highest court," Schwarzbaum said, his voice quavering and hands trembling. "Speak here about what you and your comrades did!"

The trial is one of four expected this year against two other former SS men and one woman alleged to have served in Auschwitz. The 11th-hour prosecutions come after a new precedent was set in 2011, when former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk became the first person to be convicted in Germany solely for serving as a death camp guard, with no evidence of involvement in a specific killing.

Prosecutors successfully argued in the Demjanjuk case that simply serving in a death camp, and thus helping it operate, was enough to convict someone of accessory to the murders committed there. Although Demjanjuk always denied serving at the death camp and died before his appeal could be heard, prosecutors last year successfully convicted SS sergeant Oskar Groening, who served in Auschwitz, on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder using the same reasoning.

Hanning admitted to investigators when first questioned that he had served in the Auschwitz I part of the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, but denied serving at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau section, where most of the 1.1 million victims were killed.

As the trial opened, however, his attorneys filed a motion asking to exclude that statement, saying that Hanning had been "surprised" when authorities showed up at his house and wasn't fully aware he was under investigation. It wasn't clear when the judges would rule on the motion. His attorney, Andreas Scharmer, would not say whether the defence was planning to try and argue that Hanning did not serve in the camp at all if his statement was excluded.

Prosecutor Andreas Brendel told The Associated Press after the hearing that there was also other evidence that Hanning was there, including SS company lists.

Reading the indictment, Brendel told the court that Hanning served in two different SS Death's Head companies in Auschwitz as a guard. He said those companies were used to guard prisoners used as slave labourers outside the camp, and also were called to Birkenau to help with the tens of thousands being brought in during the so-called "Hungarian action" in 1944 and unloaded from trains onto a ramp.

On the ramp, Nazis stripped the prisoners of their possessions and sorted them into groups: those who would be immediately taken to the gas chambers and those fit enough to be used as slave labour, and likely worked to death.

"The decision over life and death lay with the SS men on the ramp," Brendel said.

Doctors have advised that the trial sessions can run no longer than two hours, in deference to Hanning's age and health.

Schwarzbaum, one of about 40 Auschwitz survivors or their relatives who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs as allowed under German law, had his testimony cut short before he could finish answering questions. He's due to take the stand again when the trial resumes Friday.

After the proceedings, he told the AP his main hope for the trial is that Hanning will tell his story so the world will better know what happened in Auschwitz and why SS guards did what they did.

"He's an old man," Schwarzbaum said. "He should tell the truth."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Notley wins over Calgary business crowd, starting with 'eastern bastards' remark

    Canada News CBC News
    Two years after struggling through a speech in front of an awkwardly silent business crowd, Rachel Notley stood before the Calgary Chamber again on Friday and opened with a joke. "I spent the earlier part of the week out in Ontario — you know, the home of those eastern bastards," the Alberta premier said. Source
  • Starting with 'eastern bastards' remark, Notley wins over Calgary business crowd

    Canada News CBC News
    Two years after struggling through a speech in front of an awkwardly silent business crowd, Rachel Notley stood before the Calgary Chamber again on Friday and opened with a joke. "I spent the earlier part of the week out in Ontario — you know, the home of those eastern bastards," the Alberta premier said. Source
  • Jewish group, residents of Ontario town urge new name for 'Swastika Trail'

    Canada News CTV News
    A major Jewish advocacy group in Canada has stepped up efforts to help some residents of an Ontario town convince local politicians to rename a street currently called Swastika Trail. B'nai Brith Canada started an online petition Thursday calling on Puslinch Township, about 75 kilometres west of Toronto, to change the street name. Source
  • Fraud trial of the 'Muslim Madoff' adjourned after accused fires lawyer: Crown

    Canada News CBC News
    The trial of a Toronto businessman charged with fraud for allegedly pocketing millions in "Shariah-compliant" mortgages has been delayed until next fall — just as it was beginning. The opening day of the trial for Omar Kalair, dubbed the "Muslim Madoff" by some of the homeowners who were allegedly left thousands in the hole after buying into the mortgages marketed to Muslims, got underway earlier this month. Source
  • False killer whale is latest cetacean to die at Vancouver Aquarium

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Aquarium says the false killer whale it rescued off a beach over three years ago has died at the facility. The aquarium says in a statement that Chester's behaviour changed Wednesday and despite intensive veterinary care, he died this morning. Source
  • 'Chester' is 4th cetacean dead at Vancouver Aquarium this year

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- A false killer whale has died at the Vancouver Aquarium, becoming the fourth cetacean to die at the facility in the past year. The aquarium said in a statement that Chester's behaviour changed Wednesday and despite intensive veterinary care, he died on Friday morning. Source
  • Politician's baby banned from municipal assembly in Japan

    World News CBC News
    A baby brought into a Japanese municipal assembly chamber by his lawmaker mother was promptly ejected because his presence was against the rules, an official said on Friday, highlighting the hurdles faced by working women in Japan. Source
  • Senior Ukraine separatist: Rebel chief has resigned

    World News CTV News
    MINSK, Belarus -- A senior separatist official in eastern Ukraine on Friday announced the resignation of thebeleaguered rebel chief in an apparent palace coup, ending a four-day showdown between rivaling factions. Leonid Pasechnik, state security minister of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, said in a statement on Friday evening that the republic's chief Igor Plotnitsky has resigned on health grounds. Source
  • RightNow co-founder says group aims to elect 'enough pro-lifers' to pass 'much-needed legislation'

    Canada News CBC News
    Until this week, many people in Saskatchewan had never heard of RightNow. That all changed when the anti-abortion organization ranked the six contenders for leadership of the Saskatchewan Party — one of whom will be the province's next premier — based on their stance on abortion. Source
  • Chester the false killer whale has died, Vancouver Aquarium says

    Canada News CBC News
    Chester the false killer whale, has died, according to the Vancouver Aquarium. "We are deeply saddened to announce his passing this morning," said aquarium president and CEO John Nightingale on Friday. Source