Former Nazi guard to go on trial over Auschwitz murders

Reinhold Hanning (94) to be tried for murder of 170,000 people during second World War

Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former guard at Auschwitz arrives to the courtroom for his trial in Detmold, Germany. Mr Hanning began serving as a guard at Auschwitz when he was 22 years old. Photograph: Bernd Thissen/Reuters

Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former guard at Auschwitz arrives to the courtroom for his trial in Detmold, Germany. Mr Hanning began serving as a guard at Auschwitz when he was 22 years old. Photograph: Bernd Thissen/Reuters

 

A former Nazi SS guard is due to go on trial in Germany over the murder of at least 170,000 people in Auschwitz.

Reinhold Hanning (94) was 20- years-old when he started serving as a guard at the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland where more than 1.1 million Jews were killed by the Nazis.

Prosecutors said he voluntarily joined the armed SS at the age of 18 and participated in battles in eastern Europe during the early stages of the second World War. He was transferred to Auschwitz in January 1942.

Accused by the prosecutor’s office in Dortmund as well as by 38 joint plaintiffs from Hungary, Israel, Canada, Great Britain, the United States and Germany, Hanning will face the accounts of contemporary camp witnesses.

One of them is Erna de Vries, who in 1943 was deported to Auschwitz along with her mother. She was 23-years-old and was considered a “Jewish crossbreed” as her father was Protestant. She was saved from the gas chamber and transferred to a labour camp.

“I survived, but up until today I don’t know how exactly my mother was killed,” Ms de Vries said ahead of the trial. “The last thing she said to me was, ‘You will survive and tell what happened to us.’

“I am not hateful but it somehow feels like justice to see this man, who was working there when my mother died, on trial,” Ms die Vries said.

Investigations by Germany’s special Nazi war crimes office in Ludwigsburg show that Hanning served as a guard at Auschwitz until at least June 1944.

While Hanning admitted to his guard duties in a statement to the prosecution, he denied involvement in the mass killings.

Investigators say he also served at Auschwitz’s Birkenau sub-division where about 90 per cent of more than 1.2 million killings in the camp were carried out in four gas chambers.

Prosecutors maintain that the Nazis’ killing machinery hinged on people like Hanning guarding the prisoners and accuses him of expediting, or at least facilitating, the murders.

Precedence for such charges was set in 2011 when death camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk was convicted of being an accessory to mass murder.

Mr Hanning’s trail is the first of four such court cases that could be the last due to the very old age of the defendants.

The three men and one woman accused are all in their nineties and will be tried over the next few months, starting with Mr Hanning in the western German city of Detmold.

Given their age, trials are delayed due to lengthy procedures to determine whether they are fit to be in court. Hearings are also restricted to two hours per day.

However, Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, responsible for war crime investigations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said age should not be viewed as an obstacle to prosecution.

“When you think of these cases, don’t think of frail, old, sick men and women, but of young people who devoted their energies to a system that implemented the (Nazis’ so-called) Final Solution and aimed to obliterate the Jewish people,” saidMr Zuroff from his Jerusalem office.

Reuters