Tomorrow, former SS guard Oskar Groening, 93, goes on trial in Germany on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. He faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in a trial that will focus on whether legally he can be found an accessory to murder for his actions. Groening is accused of helping operate the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland between May and June 1944, when some 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought there and at least 300,000 almost immediately gassed to death. His job was to deal with the belongings stolen from victims. Prosecutors allege among other things that he was charged with helping collect and tally money that was found, which has earned him the moniker "the accountant of Auschwitz" from the German media.
Groening's trial is the first to test a line of German legal reasoning opened by the 2011 trial of former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk on allegations he was a Sobibor death camp guard, which has unleashed an 11th-hour wave of new investigations of Nazi war crimes suspects. Prosecutors argue that anyone who was a death camp guard can be charged as an accessory to murders committed there, even without evidence of involvement in a specific death. Groening has openly acknowledged serving as an SS non-commissioned officer at Auschwitz, though he denies committing any crimes. Groening has said he felt an obligation to talk about his past to confront those who deny the Holocaust. "I want to tell those deniers that I have seen the crematoria, I have seen the burning pits, and I want to assure you that these atrocities happened," he said. "I was there." (Read more Nazi stories.)