Auschwitz Guard, 94, to Stand Trial on 170K Counts
Reinhold Hanning's lawyer argues he worked in less-deadly section
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 10, 2016 11:56 AM CST
The gate of the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz is pictured in Poland.   (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

(Newser) – A 94-year-old former SS guard at the Auschwitz death camp is going on trial this week on 170,000 counts of accessory to murder, the first of up to four cases being brought to court this year in an 11th-hour push by German prosecutors to punish Nazi war crimes. Reinhold Hanning is accused of serving as an SS Unterscharfuehrer—similar to a sergeant—in Auschwitz from January 1943 to June 1944. His trial starts on Thursday and is one of the latest that follow a precedent set in 2011, when former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk became the first person to be convicted in Germany solely for serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of involvement in a specific killing, reports the AP. In all, about 40 Auschwitz survivors or their relatives have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs.

Hanning's attorney says that his client acknowledges serving at the Auschwitz I part of the camp complex, but denies serving at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau section, where most of the 1.1 million victims were killed. The prosecutor argues guards in the main camp were also used as on-call guards to augment those in Birkenau when trainloads of Jews were brought in. "The chimneys were spewing fire ... and the smell of burning human flesh was so unbelievable that one could hardly bear it," says a 94-year-old Auschwitz survivor who is the first witness scheduled for the trial. Though he says he feels deeply unsettled about staring Hanning in the eyes in the courtroom Thursday, he adds it's important to be there. "It's perhaps the last time for him to tell the truth." (An Auschwitz medic will stand trial later this month.)