A 93-year-old former Nazi guard from Auschwitz is on trial in Germany for 300,000 counts of murder. I’m not making this up. A recent change of law in Germany has allowed four former members of the Nazi regime to be tried for their part in World War II war crimes.
And I guess they had better hurry up and finish this trial. One of the four men up for trial has already died of natural causes, two are not fit to be tried (probably for health reasons). This last one, Oskar Groening, is the only one healthy and alive enough to be tried for the crimes of his youth.
And he is apparently putting up a good defense. He says he did not knowingly do anything wrong. He never killed anyone with his own hands. He was just following orders at Auschwitz.
The reasoning behind charging him with 300,000 murders is that about that number of Jews were killed with gas at Auschwitz. And Groening apparently had something to do with all of these. That might be hard to prove.
And honestly, what is this? What happened at Auschwitz was terrible. But pinning the whole thing on one low-level lever-puller is hardly going to settle the accounts. He’s 93. The time for trying him was decades ago. The Auschwitz surivors in the plaintiff’s circle are themselves on their deathbeds. What purpose is there in dredging all of this up now? If they convict him, what are they going to do? Life imprisonment? For what, five miserably short years at the tail end of his life? Or execute him? What will that even mean at this point?
This all feels like an extremely empty symbolic ritual. Even the language used surrounding the trial feels rote and tired, like a liturgy spoken by a priest who hasn’t believed in years. We will struggle to make sense of the horror and tragedy of Auschwitz for generations to come. I don’t see how this could possibly help us in that.