A 94-year-old former SS sergeant who served as a guard at Auschwitz has been sentenced to five years in prison for complicity in the murder of at least 170,000 people at the death camp.
Reinhold Hanning admitted during his trial at Detmold state court that he volunteered for the SS at the age of 18 and served in Auschwitz from January 1942 to June 1944 but said he was not involved in the killings in the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
“It disturbs me deeply that I was part of such a criminal organisation,” he told the court in April. “I am ashamed that I saw injustice and never did anything about it and I apologise for my actions.”
Despite his age, Hanning has seemed alert during the four-month trial, paying attention to the proceedings and occasionally walking into the courtroom on his own, though usually using a wheelchair.
Several equally elderly Auschwitz survivors gave evidence at the trial about their own experiences, and were among about 40 survivors or their families who joined the process as co-plaintiffs as allowed under German law.
Leon Schwarzbaum, a 95-year-old Auschwitz survivor from Berlin who was used as slave laborer to help build a factory for Siemens outside the camp, told the court at the start of the trial that he regularly saw flames belching from the chimneys of the Auschwitz crematoria.
“So much fire came out of the chimneys, no smoke, just fire,” he told the court. “And that was burning people.”
Mr Schwarzbaum later said he does not want Hanning to go to prison and is happy that he apologised, but had hoped that he would have provided more details about his time in Auschwitz for the sake of educating younger generations.
“The historical truth is important,” he said.
The same argument being used in Hanning‘s case was used successfully last year against SS sergeant Oskar Groening, to convict him of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder for serving in Auschwitz. Germany’s highest appeals court is expected to rule on the validity of the Groening verdict sometime this summer.
Groening, 95, was sentenced to four years in prison but will remain free while his case goes through the lengthy appeals process and is unlikely to spend any time behind bars, given his age.
Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said: “As a guard at Auschwitz, Reinhold Hanning was complicit in the death and suffering of countless Jewish men, women and children. His conviction sends the message that more than 70 years after the Holocaust the world will continue to seek justice on behalf of those who were murdered.”