A former Nazi death camp guard dubbed the “Accountant of Auschwitz” has died before he could begin serving his four-year sentence, a lawyer told German prosecutors.
Hannover prosecutor Kathrin Soefker said a lawyer informed her office that Oskar Groening, 96, died in a hospital on Friday.
The office is awaiting an official death certificate, Ms Soefker said.
The lawyer, Hans Holtermann, did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.
Groening’s death first was reported by German weekly Der Spiegel on Monday.
He was convicted in Lueneburg in 2015 as an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews.
The Lueneburg court concluded that although there was no evidence of involvement in a specific killing, Groening knew that Jews were being slaughtered at the German death camp and supported the killings through his actions.
Groening testified at his trial that he oversaw the collection of prisoners’ belongings at Auschwitz and ensured valuables and cash were separated to be sent to Berlin – the actions that earned him the “Accountant of Auschwitz” label.
He said he witnessed individual atrocities, but did not acknowledge participating in any crimes.
All of his appeals were rejected, and it was only his ill health that kept him from being sent to prison in recent years.
Most recently, his lawyers made one final bid for clemency, a decision on which was still pending.
Susan Pollack MBE, who testified during the trial of Oskar Gröning told Jewish News: “Gröning’s death does not alter the fact of his moral responsibility, which he himself acknowledged.
That does not just apply to Gröning but to all others who served the Nazi regime at the time. Gröning was one of the few who had a need to express his long held guilt, which urged him to open up and admit.
My own interest is that the Holocaust should never be forgotten and his admission to some extent helped to keep the memory of the victims alive through media attention in Germany and across Europe.”
Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “The trial and conviction of Oskar Gröening sent an unequivocal message that the “bookkeeper” of Auschwitz assisted in and facilitated the murder of 300,000 Jewish men, women and children. This should never be forgotten. While Gröening was able to live his life until the ripe old age of 96, the same was not afforded to his victims.”
Olivia Marks-Wolman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust said: “The fact that Groening did not serve any of his sentence for his complicity in the murder of 300,000 people at Auschwitz feels deeply unfair.
“We remember those who were killed in the Holocaust and their families who live with the legacy of their devastating loss.
“We hope they can take some small comfort from Groening being finally convicted for his role as an SS guard and his guilt being acknowledged and exposed to the world before he died. ”
Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said it was unfortunate that Groening’s conviction did not result in “at least symbolic justice” for the victims of Auschwitz.
In 2011, former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk became the first person convicted in Germany solely for serving as a death camp guard without evidence of being involved in a specific killing.
Demjanjuk, who always denied serving at the Sobibor camp, died before his appeal could be heard.
In 2016, former SS sergeant Reinhold Hanning was convicted on 170,000 counts of accessory to murder for serving as an Auschwitz guard.
He, too, died before he could begin serving his five-year-sentence.
Hanning apologised for his wartime service, telling Holocaust survivors that “it disturbs me deeply” to have been a part of the Nazis’ genocidal machinery.