Auschwitz guard, 94, to stand trial

Auschwitz guard, 94, to stand trial

Eyeglasses in Auschwitz. Source: Wikimedia


A 94-year-old former Nazi SS guard at Auschwitz extermination camp is due to face trial in Germany over the murder of at least 170,000 people.

Prosecutors say Reinhold Hanning met Jewish prisoners as they arrived at the Polish death camp and is thought to have escorted some to the gas chambers. Hanning admitted being a guard but denied involvement in mass murder, prosecutors reported. He faces trial in Detmold, in what will surely be one of the last cases of its kind.

Hanning is one of four former Nazi guards, three men and a woman, to face legal action in the next few months. The Nazis killed about 1.1m people at Auschwitz, most of them Jews. Survivors will testify against Hanning.

“The chimneys were spewing fire … the smell of burning human flesh was so unbelievable that one could hardly bear it,” 94-year-old Leon Schwarzbaum was quoted saying.

Prosecutors previously had to provide evidence that Nazis were directly involved in killing inmates. But the 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk set a precedent when a judge ruled that his activities as a camp worker in occupied Poland amounted to complicity in mass murder.

Last year a German court jailed Oskar Groening, 94, for four years as an accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 people at Auschwitz.  The so-called SS “book-keeper of Auschwitz” was accused of counting banknotes that had been confiscated from inmates.

Angela Orosz was approaching her first birthday when she left Auschwitz but she weighed around 3kg, as much as a newborn. She was apparently too weak to cry and now, 71, only grew to 152cm or less than five foot. Orosz will testify against Hanning.

“Because so much time has passed since then, it’s important that the last remaining survivors speak out,” Orosz said from Montreal, Canada, where she lives. “I’m probably the youngest of them, but for me it’s a duty to keep the memory alive.”

Orosz’s birth in Auschwitz was miraculous considering the ordeal her mother suffered. She is one of two babies born in Auschwitz known to have survived.  Her parents married in 1943 but the Nazis invaded Hungary a year later and forced them on a train carriage for cattle. Orosz’s mother was pregnant and the couple were both put to hard labour.

Her father died of exhaustion, while her mother’s pregnancy did not show even in the seventh month because of malnutrition. Orosz’s mother was also subjected to notorious camp doctor Josef Mengele’s gruesome experiments, including a sterilisation procedure that involved pushing a burning substance into her cervix, while she was pregnant.

She only spent a month in Auschwitz before it was liberated on January 27, 1945. Orosz said it was clear that “it has marked my entire life”.

“I was a very sick baby. I looked like a rag doll. In November 1945, when I was almost a year old, I weighed only 3kg,” Orosz said. “My mother was the only one convinced that I would live. The legacy of Auschwitz, of my mother’s starvation and abuse, never disappeared completely. I stand less than five feet tall today.”

A doctor cared for her for several years until her bones were strong enough for her to walk.

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