Oskar Gröning was born on 10 June 1921 in Nienburg, Germany. He joined the Hitler Youth in his early teens, and in 1940, he joined the SS, a military organisation under the Nazi Party, as a volunteer.
In October 1942, Gröning was reassigned from his role in the paymaster’s office to a role in “Inmate Money Administration” at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, Gröning’s duties included confiscating money and other valuables from prisoners before sending these items to the main administrative office of the SS headquarters in Berlin, Germany.
It is, however, alleged that in addition to this confiscation of materials, Gröning further destroyed other belongings of prisoners so that new arrivals would not see them. Through these actions, it is alleged that Gröning enabled the Nazi regime to gain economically and carry out further atrocities.
Moreover, it is alleged that Gröning, through his additional duties guarding the possessions of recent arrivals, was aware that many of the arrivals were murdered almost immediately upon arrival if deemed unfit to work.
After his service in Auschwitz, he was transferred to the front lines in late 1944 and was captured by British troops after being wounded. Until 1948, Gröning was held in a British prison. After his release, he found a job as a payroll clerk in a glass factory in Lueneberg, Germany. He remained in this position until his retirement in the 1980s.
Gröning’s case attracted attention in 2005 after he appeared in interviews in which he talked about his work in a concentration camp during the war.
Gröning passed away on 9 March 2018 at the age of 96.
The first investigation of Gröning took place after his capture by British troops after 1944. However, a war crimes tribunal cleared him of all charges in 1948. He was investigated again in by German authorities, but he was cleared again and the potential case against him was halted.
On 15 September 2014, for his role working for the Nazi regime, Gröning was charged with 300’000 counts of accessory to murder by the federal prosecution in Hanover, Germany. The 300’000 counts relate to the number of Hungarian Jews that allegedly died at Awschwitz between May and July 1942.
While Gröning did not deny the occurrence of gross acts of violence at Auschwitz, he maintained that he never actively participated in their commission.
The decision to charge Gröning came after a ruling that changed the statute of limitations in which Germany could only prosecute Nazi war criminals if they had personally committed atrocities. As a result of this ruling however, direct involvement was no longer a prerequisite and as such Gröning was charged for having served as a guard at Auschwitz.
Gröning’s charges only relate to two months of his service at Auschwitz for legal and evidence reasons. Gröning was charged with aiding and abetting in at least 300’000 deaths that occurred in the Awschwitzfollowing the arrival of over 425’000 Jews from Hungary between 16 May 1942 and 11 July 1942.
Having been found fit to stand trial, Gröning’s trial started on 20 April 2015 before the Court of Lueneburg, in northern Germany.
On the second day of the proceedings, Gröning admitted in his opening statement that he shared the burden of moral guilt for his role at Auschwitz, but left it to the judges to determine whether his actions were sufficient for him to be convicted as an accessory to murder.
Gröning was sentenced on 15 July 2015 by the Lunebourg tribunal to four years’ imprisonment for his complicity in the murder of 300’000 Jews.
The Lunebourg tribunal’s sentence was longer than the three and a half years’ imprisonment requested by the prosecutor on 7 July 2015, yet still less than the three to 15 years of imprisonment that the accused could have otherwise faced. A federal appeals court rejected Gröning’s appeal in 2016.
In the meantime, Gröning had remained free while waiting for a determination of his fitness to serve time in prison. After lengthy debates as to Gröning’s state of health, he was finally found fit to serve his prison sentence. On 29 December 2017, Germany’s highest instance court, the Constitutional Court, rejected Gröning’s appeal which argued that the prison sentence violated his right to life, and ruled that “[t]he high age of the applicant is in itself not sufficient to refrain from enforcing the criminal penalty”.
In January 2018, the Prosecutor’s office in Lunebeurg rejected a request for parole filed by the defendant.
Gröning was expected to begin his prison sentence in January 2018, but the continuing fight over his state of health kept him from doing so. Gröning passed away on 9 March 2018 at the age of 96.
After the Second World War numerous trials against war criminals and those responsible for Nazi crimes took place in Germany and other countries. It is not possible here to give an overview of all the trials. Below are the main facts concerning the major trials of war criminals at Nuremberg.
BASIS UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW
The German armed forces surrendered unconditionally on 7-8 May 1945. The Allies (USA, Soviet Union, Great Britain and France) took over all governmental functions in Germany, instituted the Allied Control Council and divided Germany into four zones of occupation.
After the adoption of the London Charter of 8 August 1945, the Allies set up the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in order to judge the major German war criminals. Annex III of the Agreement contains the Statute of the International Military Tribunal (IMT Statute ).
NUREMBERG TRIAL OF MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS
According to Articles 1-3 of the London Charter, war criminals with offenses having no particular geographical location were to be judged by the IMT. However in accordance with Articles 4 and 6 of the Convention, the principle of territoriality was to apply to the other German war criminals, with the courts of those states where crimes had been committed having the competence to try these criminals on the basis on their national laws.
Crimes within the jurisdiction of IMT:
– Crimes against peace;
– War crimes and
– Crimes against humanity (Article 6 of IMT Statute).
The IMT was composed of four judges and four substitutes who were appointed by the four Allied powers (Article 2 IMT Statute). In application of Article 13 of the IMT Statute, the Tribunal drew up its own Rules of Procedure
The IMT indicted 24 people in total. The trials took place from 14 November 1945 until 1 October 1946. Twelve defendants were sentenced to death, three were acquitted and seven others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment. In one case, the procedure was suspended for health reasons and in another the defendant committed suicide before his trial.