Closing argument of Attorney at Law Thomas Walther – May 27, 2016

Final speech in the trial against Hanning on May 27, 2016

Detmold District Court


Honorable Court,

respected prosecutors, dear colleagues,

respected counsels for the defense,

those final hours before the end of hearing evidence two weeks ago may distort our perspective of what is so significant about his trial.

I am going to be very frank with you.

I have talked to too many Holocaust survivors not to know that every voice counts. And each survivor carries his or her personal Auschwitz inside, and no two of these hellish experiences are alike. The search for truth in Auschwitz, this diabolic place, always explores a realm in which ‘being human’ had ceased to exist.

In the eyes of the perpetrators – the SS leadership, SS physicians, SS officers, NCOs and guards – the victims, who were all deported to Auschwitz with the definite intent to kill them from the very start, had been ultimately and fully stripped of any physical right to exist as a human being.

At the same time, the propaganda to elevate the German people and the Aryan race helped eliminate any last scruples amongst SS members, who already had a sense of belonging to an elite, and made them accept and support the necessity to annihilate unworthy lives.

This was the consensus amongst the perpetrators.

I will try to show you some aspects of how the defendant did his utmost to obscure the evolution of a destructive, inhumane and cruel attitude in his personal development.

It began in 1935 with the Hitler Youth. Hanning describes the HJ in his home town as if it had been a sports club under the leadership of the village mayor. He goes to great lengths to underline that all they did was compete athletically, and that he soon didn’t have any time to serve with the HJ.

Participation was mandatory, however – twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Article 2 of the Hitler Youth Act of December 1, 1936, mandated: “Beyond the parents’ home and school, the entire German youth must be part of the Hitler Youth in order to be physically, mentally and morally taught to serve their country and develop a sense of national community in the spirit of National Socialism.” Why does Hanning want to make us believe that, at this point already, he didn’t have anything to do with it?

Until he voluntarily joined the SS, it seems that National Socialism, which was supposed to make the German youth “hard as Krupp steel” via the HJ, was entirely absent from the defendant’s life.

And his own decision to voluntary join the Waffen-SS, made by the 19-year-old defendant in 1940, is blamed on a future stepmother, a nurse, who was staunchly in line with the NSDAP.

Finally, Hanning does not even mention his officially documented formal transfer from the reserve regiment “Der Führer” in Stralsund to Auschwitz in January of 1942. Instead, he claims that his path took him from an alleged hospital in Kattowitz directly to a “sanatorium” at the “Solahütte” and from there to Auschwitz. He almost nostalgically describes how much he missed his old combat unit, which continued to fight in Russia after he started serving in Auschwitz. What he does not tell us is that in January of 1942, his 2000-strong SS regiment “Der Führer” under the command of Obersturmbannführer Otto Kumm was decimated within just a few weeks in the “Winter Battle of Rshew”, leaving only 35 survivors.

At his advanced age, shouldn’t he frankly admit to himself that the fact that he was in Auschwitz saved his own life?

I say: “All this just doesn’t add up.”

The defendant claims that it wasn’t the misguided notions of a young man in Eastern Westphalia at the beginning of a war that NS propaganda romantically portrayed as an epic struggle led by heroes in SS uniforms – but rather the impact of a “third party” that steered him one way or another towards the defining moments of his life.

“I don’t believe him.”

But let’s, once more, return to the “survivors’ voices”.

I said: “Each one of them counts!”

Therefore, I defined my personal objective long before this trial in Detmold or in Lüneburg, or the proceedings against Demjanjuk in Munich: If there ever was to be a trial, “the voices of the survivors must be heard”. The survivors were to lend the trial a human face. And it wasn’t just Demjanjuk I had in mind back then, in 2008. The trial against a Trawniki guard at the Sobibor extermination camp was supposed to open the doors for the many proceedings that German justice had failed to address, slept through, and swept under the rug. The “many” ended up being just a few.

The survivors were to give these proceedings a face, and a voice to speak on behalf of their murdered families as joint plaintiffs before the court.

My experiences over the years have taught me a certain humility. Far from every prosecutor, judge or lawyer shared or shares my views. Not every single Holocaust survivor wants to talk to a German lawyer about joining legal action, or the topic in general. And far from everyone who wants to speak has the strength to actually do so in a court of law.

Throughout my three decades as a judge and my years as public prosecutor, I have always been aware of the fact that prosecutors and courts have to be persuaded that the “survivors’ voices count and must be heard”. And I am of the opinion that we all did that very well.

Of course, in these efforts, I have also been shown my limits time and again, because I usually wanted to bring more people into the court room than the Code of Criminal Procedure allowed. That also just happened in this trial: One court-summoned witness from Canada appeared before the court twice, only to return home to Canada without having been heard. You all remember that during those days, other summoned witnesses were given precedence and eventually my questioning of witness Judith Kalman did not happen.

And yet, I maintain: “Every survivor’s voice counts!” For the statements by the witnesses who were heard at that time, Richt-Bein and Lesser, were significant beyond doubt. Their voice counts.

I learned that what really matters isn’t one single trial, and it certainly isn’t big media coverage with cameras, or newspapers reporting on this or that trial.

What matters for the real world, present and future, is change. It is a return to the principles of law as we grapple with and try to understand the worst crime against humanity in human memory:

We owe the victims justice!

And all of you here in the court room and the many people involved in the proceedings around the world have contributed to that and, in my opinion, rendered justice a great service.

Meanwhile, we also know that with a little wisdom, the irritations of the past two weeks could have been entirely avoided. I don’t think anyone will argue with that.

Now for the outcome of the proceedings against defendant Reinhold Hanning:

Essentially, the public prosecution aptly summarized the results of the hearing of evidence. Any differences in nuance will later be clarified by my colleague Prof. Dr. Nestler.

Yet I will make some additional comments on the outcome of the hearing of evidence.

My final speech will mainly focus on the joint plaintiffs I represent, some of whom spoke before this court.

It is the defendant himself who provided me with the tenor of my final speech in the course of the past few days in court.

As I already said: The defendant wants to make us believe that in those defining moments of his life that set him on track towards being part of the crime against humanity that was the mass murder in Auschwitz, other people influenced or even made decisions for him against his will.

And now he has been sitting in this courtroom for weeks on end, showing us his face. No. He showed us two faces.

One of those faces was so consistently looking down at a 45-degree angle that for weeks, it seemed impossible to even make brief eye contact with him.

Some of the witness addressed the defendant because of his body language and lowered gaze. They asked him to look up. Hedy Bohm from Toronto said to him: “Look at me. You don’t have to be afraid!”

At times, the counsel for the defense asked me not to address his client directly.

But can you actually imagine this reverse déjà-vu the joint plaintiffs had to endure, the kind of emotional ordeal it was for them just to see that consistently downcast gaze? – Many witnesses and numerous survivors have described various situations in Auschwitz when looking an SS guard in the eye could spell unpredictable dangers. – One could only hope to get away with just a violent beating. At times, however, eye contact could also trigger a deadly response.

And now the defendant meets the survivors with the same body language they had assumed back in the day.

He first revealed his other face when it wasn’t an Auschwitz survivor who spoke, but witness Willms from the State Office of Criminal Investigation who reported on the defendant’s career with the SS, showing and explaining numerous documents some of which bore the defendant’s signature from those times. Now Hanning showed a keen interest. He followed witness Wilms’ explanations sitting bolt upright and looking straight at the depicted documents.

Even after we had exceeded the two-hour time slot for the proceedings by thirty minutes, Mr. Hanning did not exhibit the slightest sign of fatigue.

The witnesses who saw him 70 years after Auschwitz in the court room overwhelmingly interpreted the defendant’s two faces as follows: Back then, the SS demonstrated its disdain for Jews by not allowing them to overtly look at them. Today, Mr. Hanning will not meet the gaze of the same Jews for even a minute, thus basically demonstrating the same disdain again. NO eye contact.

Not looking at the witnesses also implies something else. It conveys his feeling that he personally does not have anything to do with the things that are being said. Only the documents about his own career with the SS touched the defendant’s “self”.

Mr. Hanning, you didn’t look at Max Eisen when he addressed this court from this very spot as a witness. He came to you to Auschwitz as a fifteen-year-old on May 18, 1944. This was still at the old ramp, when you and the 3rd company served there. Transports were unloaded at night. After a short while, Tibor, which was his name back then, became an assistant to the Polish inmate-physician Dr. Tadeusz Orzesko at the inmates’ sick quarters, block 21 of the main camp. He was near you. Back then, he was not allowed to look you in the eye. Today, you do not even deign to look at him.

On behalf of many witnesses and many more joint plaintiffs, let me repeat some of his words, which you shut out when he spoke them on February 18.

You purposefully shut yourself down, and refused to listen, even though you could hear.

Max Eisen said:

My family and I had only a minute or two together on the platform and I was so happy to see my mother and my two brothers. I could see that my baby sister was not responsive, probably because my mother could not breastfeed her …

And he went on to say….

To one side of this platform there was a plume of flame and smoke, and I thought, this must be some kind of a factory. I smelled burning flesh. Beyond the floodlit platform, all was dark…

And then ….

I found myself in the men’s line with my father and my uncle. My grandfather, my grandmother, my mother … my two younger siblings, and my aunt were all marched away. … I didn’t have an opportunity to speak to my mother, nor did our eyes ever meet, and I wasn’t able to say any final words to her. I found out later that my mother, grandparents, and siblings were all gassed in Crematorium II…

Herr Hanning: Listen to how you systematically starved the slave laborers who weren’t killed right away, and who were not allowed to look at you:

Max Eisen said:

… I lived on a 300 calorie diet a day, which consisted of a cup of tea in the morning and lunch was a ladle of soup that was mostly water and dinner was a cup of ersatz coffee, a thin slice of bread and a tiny square of margarine. This diet took a heavy toll on all of us. Our bodies were fast disappearing and breaking out in boils, and had my father and uncle not been with me, I would not have survived the first week in this place. I experienced the continuous pressure of hard work, beatings, very little food, and a body that was not functioning well. During the day’s exhausting work, there was no liquid given to us. I noticed that young men in their 20’s or so were falling by the wayside. They could not survive on this diet and simply gave up. The hunger drove some people to desperation – it was dehumanization by starvation. I recall one day when the daily soup was dished out, several inmates fought each other to push into the drum to get the last drop out. I made a decision then that, no matter what, I would never stoop to this level.

Herr Hanning: Listen to how a devout orthodox Jewish father saved his 15-year-old son from starvation. He already told us. But you were not looking or listening. Now I am telling you. You can hear me!

Max Eisen said:

Another day after coming back from work, I saw my father and my uncle waiting for me inside the gate as they usually did. My unit was always the last to come back in the evening, and I always saw them waiting there for my return. A few times, they had managed to bring back a piece of bread or a potato during a work detail and they always shared their good fortune with me. As the work units came marching back to camp from their daily labor, the SS Sergeant in charge of the gate scrutinized the prisoners to see if anyone was carrying contraband hidden under their jackets or pants…

And he went on….

On this particular day, their unit was working near a barracks called “Canada” (a place where the belongings of murdered prisoners were stored and sorted) and a girl from our town recognized my father and managed to slip him a chunk of bacon wrapped in a rag. My father smuggled it into the camp under his jacket. He slipped the piece of bacon under my jacket while we were standing in a huddle and my uncle blocked the view so that nobody would see this transfer. I was surprised that I was holding a piece of bacon in my hand. Coming from a traditional Orthodox family, we did not eat pork and yet my father told me that I must eat a little piece of it every day.

And he continued….

… Every night, I had another bite, a small shot of this energy, and I am positive that this little bit of protein gave me the strength to face the next day.

Herr Hanning, you were neither listening nor looking on February 18, when Max Eisen told us about the selection in the prisoners’ sick quarters, block 21. You were there and made sure that he, the fifteen-year-old boy could not run away and regain his freedom. Now hear from me what

Max Eisen said:

I witnessed how this small camp hospital was all part of the deception. People did not have time to recover; many of them were loaded onto trucks shortly after medical procedures and sent to the gas chambers in Birkenau. The drivers of these trucks returned several hours later to the operating room where they pulled bloody rags from their pockets that were full of teeth with gold crowns and fillings that I was instructed to remove with the instruments available to me. I was shocked to learn of these scavengers, who were enriching themselves in such a gruesome way.

Herr Hanning, witness Max Eisen is a few years younger than you. Since the murder of his family in Auschwitz, he has suffered the same recurrent nightmare that haunts him in his sleep. On February 18, he said:

I see my grandparents, my mother, my three siblings and my aunt locked inside a crowded gas chamber, where the gas is spreading from the floor upward to the ceiling, engulfing everyone inside. I see them suffocating and dying while the SS officers watched this death struggle through reinforced, glass peepholes. This thought will never leave me.

Max Eisen spoke of a nightmare.

Max Eisen is wrong.

This isn’t a nightmare. And his family did not “die”. Neither they, nor any of the Hungarian Jews in the gas chamber of Crematorium II “died” on May 18, 1944. They were murdered in the cruelest of ways. And it is neither a trance nor a nightmare.

It is their reality during this night of May 18, 1944. – It is our reality.

None of us knew these people who have this indelible spiritual bond with Max Eisen since May 18, 1944. Only Max Eisen has met them since his childhood so long ago. They are, amongst others, his 40-year-old mother Ethel Eisen, nee Friedman, with his two brothers, 12-year-old Shmuel and 8-year-old Moshe as well as his little sister Judith who was only nine months old. They were murdered, but they weren’t silenced. They mandated and allowed their eldest son and big brother Tibor – whose name is Max Eisen today – to speak on their behalf. It is his duty to speak about them and to remind us all of them here and today in this trial.

These names remind us that these people were alive once, that they lived happy, cheerful lives. They worked, they enjoyed their lives. The parents relished their families and their children. Tibor was, and remains as Max Eisen, one of the men in this family.

From his indelible bond, he draws the obligation to speak of their murder – not their death – no, of their murder and to always remind us of it.

This remembrance is supposed to be a remembrance in all of us, of the murder of this family and all the other families that were mentioned in Detmold, and the many thousands of families who turned into bleak ash, nameless and unknown, by the hands of other men.

On Friday, May 6, just a few weeks ago, we marked the Jewish day of Holocaust remembrance Yom Hashoa. On this day, I spoke in a large synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida, while at the same time in Poland, Max Eisen arrived in Auschwitz on the “March of the Living”. On this day, I learned something about “Neshama” – “Neshomele” in Yiddish. According to Jewish belief, it is the highest of three stages of immortality a human soul can attain. In most of the families that I met there, the consequences of the murders in Auschwitz and all the other hellish places can be seen and felt in their words, even though not everyone directly speaks of them. In deeper conversations, however, they will mention “Neshama” in connection with the murdered families. The souls of these dead sometimes give the living the strength and the power that we had the privilege of seeing in the Detmold witnesses. And in immortality, the Neshama soul encounters the living as an admonition and as a lament, not only at night in their dreams. It also sometimes talks through them at a place like this one here, in Detmold.

Herr Hanning, it was May 18, 1944, in Auschwitz when the Eisen family arrived at night. It was a Thursday. I stress that because I will later come back to the significance of another day in your own life – possibly Saturday, May 20, 1944.

Given the differences with the public prosecution regarding the ELIGIBILITY of joint PLAINTIFFS Haelion and Handeli, I must also stress:

Based on the matter that is subject of the indictment and which was determined in the main negotiations, all joint plaintiffs in these proceedings who lost parents and/or siblings during the period in question to the mass murder at the main camp, which was planned, systematic and based on division of labor, were entitled to be part of these proceedings.

This is why, from the beginning, the scope of the indictment also included accessory to the murders of the families Schwarzbaum, de Vries, Sonder, Friedländer and also Haelion as well as Handeli, beyond the “Hungarian operation”.

We are seeing “joint plaintiffs” in many contemporary proceedings. Most of the times, they did not passively suffer the ordeal of the crimes the victims endured. What is special about the joint plaintiffs in this trial is that they became joint plaintiffs through the loss of life of their parents and siblings, but at the same time they belong to the group of Holocaust survivors who experienced the hell of Auschwitz themselves in all its inhumanity, and who had to endure all the cruelties on the path towards death, until just a very slim sliver of life separated them from their own death. This is why we have to always be aware of the very close and intimate connection between the murdered and their surviving siblings and/or children in this very narrow zone between life and death.

The ca. 20% of Hungarian Jews who were deported late, namely in 1944, and not killed immediately following their arrival, were most likely to survive this window of time planned for their extermination. Their lifespan was purposefully limited from the start by way of malnourishment, which inevitably leads to death, sooner or later depending on individual constitution and some particulars of daily life.

The late arrival of the joint plaintiffs in this trial not only applies to the Hungarian Jews from May 16, 1944, but also to the Greek Jews from April 1944. Mrs. Friedländer, who arrived in Theresienstadt in June of 1944, also owed her survival to this circumstance.

Leon Schwarzbaum, who arrived in Auschwitz on August 1, 1943, and Erna de Vries, who arrived on July 16, 1943, were able to survive despite their early arrival because they were transferred to other camps, while it is nothing short of a miracle that Justin Sonders, who arrived on March 3rd, 1943, made it through 17 selections in Monowitz, extreme physical labor and the death marches.

The survival of each and every joint plaintiff is unique and thus the inversed image of the mass murder that was planned for them, too.

The indictment against Hanning describes the omnipresence of death in the survivors’ reality as a “comprehensive approach to murder”.

For the planned murder in Auschwitz went beyond the cruel killings in the gas chambers after immediate selection at the ramp.

And this is what makes this indictment so unique: For the first time in the history of prosecuting murders in extermination and concentration camps, it also captures the slow murder by way of consuming life energies in gradual, regulated and actively organized starvation. We have heard experts talk about scientific findings on starvation. In our society of affluence, we need science to explain to us the extreme cruelty of death by starvation because we don’t even know what hunger is any more.

This organized starvation led to daily selections during roll call, physical collapses in work brigades, the emaciated appearance of what was called “Muselmänner” and dying in one’s sleep.

No! – They did not die in their sleep! – They were murdered in their sleep.

A lack of health care and letting disease run its course without treatment, as well as killings in the sick quarters turned the slightest illness into a death sentence, often carried out by the victim’s own body and organs without a final execution.

The dreaded typhus fever was often combated with selections in the sick quarters by way of phenol injections, or – depending on available capacities – by way of transport to the gas chamber. Thus, the lice, mites, ticks or fleas that carried the disease were gassed along with the Jewish victims.

With the indictment in this trial, we are facing the diabolic extremes and ultimately, also the ruins of a society that was the product of a barbarization of human beings – including the defendant.

Now for some few details of the “defense pleading”, which was an anachronistic and inappropriate attempt to exempt the defendant from this process of barbarization and dehumanization.

I am addressing information the defendant had presented via his defense attorney, without answering any follow-up questions that begged to be answered.

On December 5th, 1944, the defendant submitted a marriage application to the Central Office for Racial Affairs and Settlement, asking for a permit to marry his later wife Genoveva Hajduga. At the time, she was seven months pregnant and lived 14 miles north of Auschwitz in her home town of Myslowitz.

When the Red Army fast approached Auschwitz from the East in December of 1944, the defendant, as Unterscharführer, had already spent six months 400 miles away from his bride with the 8th company of the SS-Totenkopf guard battalion at the concentration camp Sachsenhausen near Berlin.

Dated November 14, 1944, Hanning wrote a resume to go with his marriage permit application, in which he describes how he joined the Waffen-SS and his career in a few lines:

„… from the age of 7 – 14 I attended the elementary school in Billinghausen, which went through 8th grade. From the day I left school to the day of my conscription, I worked at a factory. On April 20, 1935, I joined the Hitler Youth. On July 25, 1940, I voluntarily joined the Waffen-SS. After my training with the SS reserve battalion “Der Führer” I was placed with the SS field regiment “Der Führer” in December of 1940. I participated in the occupation of Holland and France as well as the Serbian and Russian campaigns with the same unit. On September 9, 1941, I was wounded in the East. From the reserve military hospital Radom, where my wound healed, I was transferred to the SS reserve battalion SS “Der Führer”. On January 23, 1942, I was transferred to the SS Totenkopf Sturmbann Auschwitz and on June 14, 1944, to the SS Totenkopf guard battalion Sachsenhausen, where I am still serving today.”

In the statement which was read before this court on April 29, 2016, the defendant’s career sounded very different. Hanning had his lawyer declare that his resume is “not quite correct as it is.”

I am going to show you that every word of this resume is correct.

Today, the defendant wants to make us believe that as early as July of 1940, his father’s second wife compelled him to volunteer for the SS, five months before she even got married to his father. He claims he just wanted to sign up with the Wehrmacht. But even that, he claims, was primarily not his idea, but his grandfather’s. The grandfather wanted him to sign up in Augustdorf – Sennelager – with a schoolmate so that they could at least do basic training together.

The latter seems to be the rather naive idea of a caring grandfather, given that is was already the first year of the war, while the future “evil Nazi stepmother” seems to be a creative exaggeration of the alleged impact that a nurse with NSDAP membership could have on the Waffen-SS.

The critical background was determined by the Military Law of May 21, 1935. According to article 8, paragraph 2, conscripts were drafted in the calendar year of their 20th birthday, which means Hanning was scheduled to be drafted in 1941.

According to article 8, paragraph 3, Hanning would have had to serve his six-month mandatory service with the Reichsarbeitsdienst as a requirement for active service prior to joining the Wehrmacht starting in June of 1940. He could then have been drafted for active duty from February 1941.

The draftees of the 1921 cohort were usually called up for their physical between May 27, 1940, and June 22, 1940.

I refer to the Lüneburg trial. Oskar Gröning was also born in 1921 and volunteered to join the SS, even though his older brother had joined the Wehrmacht. Gröning did not conceal the fact that he was a convinced National Socialist at the time. Defendant Hanning, however, is intellectually hiding behind an evil, scheming Nazi stepmother.

Yet, we ascertain that he did not let himself be drafted by the Wehrmacht in 1941, as his grandpa had advised, but voluntarily joined the SS as early as July 1940. This allowed him to avoid the mandatory Reichsarbeitsdienst, just like Gröning, who did the same.

I quote from the verdict by the District Court of Lüneburg of July 15 of last year as an example for the cohorts of conscripts who voluntarily joined the SS, since we have not heard anything of consequence about the matter from Hanning himself. Perhaps Mr. Hanning will eventually feel compelled to state something “credible” in his final statement regarding his own attitudes and decisions beyond the stepmother story. Does he really believe that his behavior thus far will help him “save face” or protect his family? Wouldn’t a certain measure of frankness be liberating and helpful, as it was for Oskar Gröning?

The Gröning verdict reads:

In the eyes of the defendant, the SS was an “elite caste”, a “nifty troop that always returned home awash in glory”. He was thrilled by the military successes of German troops in Poland (“Kicked the Poles’ butts in 18 days!”) and France. In order to be part of what he believed to be the glorious SS, he joined it as a volunteer in October of 1940. Because he – Gröning – had no intention to “receive death”, as the phrase went in SS ideology, in other words, risk his life at the front, he stated right away, during his physical, that he wanted to be a “treasurer”. After basic training, he was stationed with SS payroll departments in Ellwangen and Dachau in accordance with his request, where he received further training.”

Hanning presented an overview of his various front deployments. Only his deployments in Holland, France, Serbia and eventually, Russia, appear to deliver on the promise of that “nifty, glorious troop” that Gröning joined three months after Hanning.

The defendant claims that the data on his “service at the front” is so very precise because he wrote an overview of it on a typewriter “at the time”. Along with defense statement, he submitted a copy of a tiny, 6’’ x 2.5’’ piece of paper that could not have fit into any typewriter.

And what exactly does “at the time” mean in regards to when he typed this list on a typewriter?

The information ends with a line that reads “September 20, 1941…. Battle in the Kiev area (wounded)”

I am convinced: The original of this photocopied document wasn’t and isn’t only 2.5 inches in height. The snippet we are presented with is a partial copy of a complete overview the defendant is withholding from us.

For the time between December 8,1940, to September 20, 1941, it lists precise deployments, closely trackable by military history, with exact dates, in Holland and northern France, labeled as “security deployment”, “occupation” etc.;

the Serbian campaign, within ten days before Serbia’s surrender on April 18, followed by the deployment of his regiment “Der Führer” as part of the SS division “Reich” in the context of operation “Barbarossa” from June 25 with the advance towards Beresina until July 8; and the engagements at the Djepr and the Jelnja passes near Smolensk, all the way to the Battle of Kiev, where he was wounded on September 20, 1941.

One wonders why the defendant only offers this 6’’ x 2.5’’ scrap of paper and fails to describe his continued service at the front with the same degree of precision.

He also remains very vague about his injury “in the Kiev area”. The formative experience of a severe injury, however, he described very precisely, in military jargon:

“I lost a lot of blood at the time. I still remember how the paramedics wanted to help me, but as soon as they approached me, they got under enemy fire, Russian fire. Finally, our tanks came and shelled the location of the Russian muzzle flashes. Then they were able to take me away.”

Even though he was removed from the chaos of the battlefront and taken to a field hospital following his injury, and eventually ended up in Auschwitz, the scrap of paper that was typed “at the time” ends with a vague mention of an “injury near Kiev”.

According to the documents provided by WAST (Wehrmacht information center) that were examined in the main proceedings, the location of the injury was PUSTOWOITOWKA,

a place name in Germanized spelling, which today, in Ukrainian, is called PUSTOVIITIVKA and located about 150 miles east of Kiev.

After his graphic description of Russian “muzzle flashes” that were shelled by “our tanks”, he continued as follows:

“Then they were able to take me away. I was taken to a nearby field hospital. That was near Radom. That’s where I received first aid.”

He didn’t say “in Radom”. He said near Radom”.

If we were to rely on the defendant’s information, we would think that “Radom” is near Kiev, or actually, near PUSTOVIITIVKA.

Yet in fact, Radom is almost 600 miles west of PUSTOVIITIVKA, south of Warsaw.

The following sentence from his defense explains why the defendant stated that his first aid in faraway Ukraine was administered in the allegedly “nearby” field hospital of Radom:

“From the field hospital in Radom is was then taken to the hospital in Kattowitz.” – In fact, Radom is only 143 miles away from Kattowitz. Which, as we all know, is a mere 20 miles north of Auschwitz.

The defendant wants to tell us that after receiving “first aid” at the field hospital in Radom, they did not perform surgery to remove the grenade splinter, because the doctors at the “first aid” field hospital were not equipped to do so. The doctors at the hospital in Kattowitz apparently also had an extremely hard time with this surgery. The defendant therefore explained:

“Later, I received head surgery there – that is in Kattowitz. Finally, they were able to remove the grenade splinter. The surgery was difficult, however, because the splinter was stuck rather deeply in my temple. As they later told me, the doctors initially did not dare perform the surgery.”

In reality, medical care for the severely wounded SS soldier Hanning followed completely different paths and definitely did not end in Kattowitz. That is evident from the WAST documents that were part of the hearing of evidence.

After his severe injury, suffered as a member of the 6th company of SS regiment “Der Führer” during the battle near PUSTOVIITIVKA on September 20, 1941, and after receiving first aid at one of the unit’s medical posts, Hanning was taken to field hospital 615 mot. in Konotop on September 22 – 40 miles north of the site of the battle, recorded under serial number 361 of the patient register. From there, he was taken to the backline field hospital mot. 623 in Nowhorod on September 24 – another 62 miles north – recorded under serial number 1090 of the patient register. One day later, on September 25, there was another transfer by train, to field hospital mot. 6/582 in Gomel – another 137 miles to the west – recorded under serial number 2481 of the patient register. Finally, on October 3, 1941, he was taken to the reserve and military hospital Radom – 472 miles further to the west – recorded under serial number 225 of the patient register.

Now, the defendant was transported to a central reserve and military hospital via three other field hospitals, where he was to receive surgery and heal. Obviously, the military hospital Radom, in a large town of 100,000 residents at the time, more than 620 miles from the location of the battle, is not a field hospital near Kiev, as the defendant and his defense lawyers want to make us believe.

At the time, splinter wounds caused by hand grenades were commonly treated in field hospitals and also in larger military hospitals, but not in general hospitals, and not at the hospital in Kattowitz, either.

Why on earth would Hanning dish up such a story after witness Willms presented the WAST documents?

After a total of four weeks at the reserve and military hospital Radom, the defendant was discharged from the hospital and transferred to the 1st company of SS reserve regiment SS “Der Führer” to STRALSUND. Now Hanning, as a member of the SS regiment “Der Führer”, was back where he was at the beginning of his service with the SS, when he trained with the same reserve unit in Graz. The reserve unit was transferred from Graz to Stralsund in late summer of 1941.

The result of this story, in a nutshell, is that Hanning was transferred to Auschwitz as a battle-proven member of the Waffen-SS. At the same time, some of his comrades from the SS reserve regiment “Der Führer” were also transferred from Stralsund to Auschwitz, who, like him, had previously served the regiment at the front.

That is what expert Dr. Hördler called the ‘cohort’ of German, front-experienced SS-men who formed the backbone of the guard company of predominantly ethnic German SS men together with Otto Stoppel, who was later to become head of the third company. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to grasp that the simultaneous promotions of members of this cohort were precisely planned to secure the successful SS deployment by the 3rd company for the murder of Europe’s Jewry in Auschwitz. I don’t want to make the same mistake as Federal Parliament President Jenninger made in 1988. I will not quote Himmler’s Posen Speech of October 6, 1943. In the very unequivocal words of Himmler, mass murder was presented as a rational, necessary measure in the renewal of Europe under German dominance. SS commanders were praised for their toughness in committing the murders and were assured that they “remained decent” while doing it.

These are, more or less, the thoughts that come to mind, and that Oskar Gröning already confirmed in his own words in Lüneburg.

But defendant Hanning stays well clear of even the slightest association with this mindset. Sturmbannführer Otto Stoppel earned the War Merit Cross, 2nd class with swords for his work with his battle-proven lieutenants of the 3rd company to “perform special tasks of military relevance”, as the mass murder in Auschwitz was called.

There are many more statements by the defendant that would merit questioning and analysis, in which he describes himself as a mere curious spectator strolling through the camp “after duty”, even though he spent two years as a lieutenant supervising the ethnic German SS guards of the 3rd company at the very heart of the murder machinery every day.

He also describes his tasks as UvD (lieutenant in charge) in great detail, spelling out almost ridiculous formal tasks, lodging in a 3-bed room as his superior’s right hand. At the same time, he talks about no more than 3 or 4 soldiers at a time – and he means SS guards, with whom he as “platoon leader” guarded prisoners in the work brigade. He said his 3 or 4 soldiers would “circle” the prisoners. Even a layman will have a hard time imagining 3 or 4 guards forming a circle. If you know, however, that a company consists of 100 to 120 men, which is 3 or 4 platoons of 30 to 40 men each, and that he identified himself as a “platoon leader”, we can visualize the “circle” of guards under his command – we are indeed talking about 30 or 40 men of the platoon of the 3rd company under his command.

The 4-men room also makes more sense as the lieutenants’ quarters where the platoon leaders, the backbone of the company, were housed.

I am not going to get into any more detail. My point is clear: A defense statement that lacks substance where it matters and is told from the aloof perspective of a casual observer is not credible.

From the point of view of the joint plaintiffs, he is improperly trying to talk and sneak his way out of this responsibility.

I will now briefly address a part of the defendant’s PRIVATE LIFE at the time, making a connection with MAX EISEN in May of 1944.

One day before the defendant reported for duty in Sachsenhausen on June 14, 1944, he got engaged to Genoveva Hajduga before the Office for Racial Affairs and Settlement on June 13. She was a Polish citizen, born out of wedlock, and registered on the list of ethnic Germans on November 4, 1944, thus obtaining provisionary German citizenship.

Their son Richard was born on February 12, 1945.

Based on a pregnancy of 268 days and Richard’s birth on February 12, 1945, Hanning and his future wife were aware of the pregnancy (which had to have been conceived around May 20, 1944) at the time of their engagement on June 13, 1944 and his subsequent reporting for duty in Sachsenhausen.

On January 12, 1945, with the due fast approaching, Hanning made an urgent request for a marriage permit from the Office for Racial Affairs and Settlement, citing his fitness for front service and the danger of being deployed at the front. He described the pregnancy as “advanced” and “two weeks away” from full term. Nine days later, on January 21, 1945 – and thus three days after the commencement of the death marches from Auschwitz – Hanning wrote to the Office for Racial Affairs and Settlement once more: “… if you haven’t sent my marriage permit yet, I ask that you do not send it to my bride, as she is being evacuated, but rather to me.” He indicates his address as Unterscharführer of the 8th company of the SS Totenkopf guard battalion at the concentration camp Sachsenhausen.

Now a rather personal remark, as I myself was also born during one of these Auschwitz years:

Herr Hanning, when Max Eisen’s family arrived in Auschwitz on Thursday, May 18, 1944, you were a young man far removed from the horrific battles of the Eastern front, “in safety”, and – so I hope – madly in love. Your sweetheart Genoveva lived only 12 miles from Auschwitz.

Your girlfriend got pregnant. Technically, one can calculate that her pregnancy started on Saturday, May 20. That was 72 years ago. And then, about three weeks later, you had to follow marching orders to go to Sachsenhausen and you got officially engaged the day before you left. You stood by your fiancé and your child. You made sure that your fiancé obtained German citizenship, and you married her. Apparently, she managed to be evacuated prior to the arrival of the Red Army.

Those were very fortunate circumstances for you, weren’t they?

Don’t you agree??

It is the stark opposite of the fates of those people who bore witness here, and of their families. Max Eisen told us how on May 18 – also 72 years ago – his little 9-month-old sister Judith lay lifelessly in his mother’s arms at the moment he lost them both forever at the ramp. Judit Eisen would be 1 ½ years older than your son Richard Hanning, had she not been murdered as a baby.

As a lieutenant in charge of the guards of the 3rd company, you stood across from Max Eisen and his family in those days in May of 1944.

You and your wife Genoveva had the privilege to survive with your son Richard.

How great would it be if you could find some objective honesty and overcome that romanticizing SS mindset that you somehow “stayed pure” in this inferno.

You have the ‘last word’!

Why don’t you take responsibility today for the convictions you held back then!

You have the ‘last word’!

And don’t portray yourself as a victim of circumstance who inadvertently stumbled into the Waffen SS and then, under equally nebulous circumstances, ended up in Auschwitz via an alleged Sanatorium at Solahütte, only to then observe what went on there as a casual bystander.

You found your family in Auschwitz. You were able to obtain the authorities’ blessing for your marriage, and you were able to save your young family thanks to Auschwitz.

At the same time, Max Eisen and all the others lost their families to the perfectly organized murder machinery of Auschwitz.

But: …. You have the “last word”!

At the end of my introduction, I said:

We owe the victims justice!

I said that all those involved in this trial worked hard for it, and are still working towards justice. The defendant, in his statement, did not do his part to contribute to this “justice”.

The sentences he read himself lack a personal connection to the injustice that was done. He referred to the SS as a criminal organization, as it was designated during the Nuremberg Trials. He stated that the deaths fell under the responsibility of the SS, in order to avoid the only applicable term, which is “murder”.

I would like to ask for your attention for one other topic. I talked about it a few months ago in Dresden’s Frauenkirche.

We owe the victims justice!

I use this sentence as a positive statement on the unspeakable – the chaos of infernal truths – and decades of failure on the part of the German justice system.

I’m talking about justice. And what I actually ought to be talking about is the terrible injustice committed by legal professionals in the justice as well as the political system by turning a blind eye.

When I say that justice is “owed”, I thereby imply that justice is also served to the victims. That in a way, justice is flowing in a cornucopia of law.

Justice is a term anchored in life. The word means that there is a mental exchange between people about real-life circumstances. This justice creates a balance of peace and intellectual diversity. Violations and injustices are called out and etched into the collective memory of the world around us.

And now I will speak of the victims – the victims of the greatest crime against humanity, those who are supposed to be on the receiving end of this justice.

How can justice be done to the countless dead?

During this trial, we recognized that in Auschwitz, people aged 13 or 14 or 18 or 20 stopped being mere sons and daughters, brothers and sisters within their families – as we all are today. Up until that moment at the Auschwitz ramp, they were like me, “my parents’ son” and “my brother’s brother”.

They were the “living”, like us, and they became “those who lived”, because their fathers, mothers and siblings were killed in the cruelest of manners. Gassed. Burned to ashes. Dumped into marshes and rivers – scattered on fields as fertilizer.

We are listening to them.

We are turning to them.

And they tell us what they remember.

No two stories are the same.

And yet:

All of the pain is the same.

Each survivor has his or her own Auschwitz. At the backdoors of hell in various slave camps, where they were liberated by the Allies after an eternity as youngsters, they had become old men and old women with a burden of suffering that exceeded all human measure. The experience of suffering and pain was so vast that it is located at the very limits of the measurable, the outermost stretches of human imagination. At the end, this ultimate pain is both so very much the “same” – and so “immeasurable”.

And yet, each and every survivor carries his or her very own Auschwitz inside oneself – And only in oneself!

And as we listen intently – without any inner or visible impatience, eventually a door will open. Through it, we gain a surprising insight – haven’t we all at times asked ourselves the question:

“How were these people able to carry on with this most excruciating of all conceivable life experiences, the experience of extermination, without permanently losing all sense of a positive attitude and way of life?”

That is the question to which I want to dedicate my final thoughts.

In the survivors’ flow of remembrance, images begin to form, which often go way back to their childhoods, when they were still living in peace and without persecution in their intact families. In a memory that is distinctly melancholy, yet happy, they steer their senses back to their childhood days. Words begin to condense into images. Father and mother are painted with words and filled with animated life. Their tender love for their siblings is almost palpable. Grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles and aunts walk in and out of their “house of remembrance”. Some still remember their mother’s or their father’s smell. Smells are crafted with words.

We experienced these words when we heard them from the witnesses before this court, and if we listened intently, we could feel how we ourselves could clearly sense, comprehend and see the form and identity of the murdered ones in their former lives – before the gorges of the hells of Auschwitz swallowed them.

In these encounters, we experience the humanity of the victims, the “being” of the parents, the siblings and their extended families.

What we are able to restore to these people in a court trial is the dignity of their ‘selves’, their identity and voice from a certain time of their lives – without a debilitating fear of death.

I learned, and in conclusion, will state some examples that prove that

justice for the victims is achieve by an antithesis of love to hate.

The survivors spoke.

Their love has many expressions.

And the faces of the joint plaintiffs as witnesses before this court are looking our contemporary society in the eye.

These faces, Mr. Hanning, also wanted to look you in the eye.

The predominant emotion in these people is a yearning love for their loved ones, who were turned into ashes by the hatred of a perfectly organized murder machinery.

And only by steadily fostering this level of emotion were so many of the survivors able to find an antithesis to that destructive hatred.

Time and again in court, we see people build an internal memorial to their murdered loved ones in this way.

During the Demjanjuk trial, a tearful joint plaintiff in the courtroom could not bring himself to hand a final letter which he possessed to the judge for inspection, because it was “the last thing” he owned.

This is how his love spoke.

More than a year ago in Montreal, Ernest Ehrmann, a joint plaintiff in this Detmold trial, had long, heart-wrenching conversations with me, during which he tearfully said there was no way he could take the framed photograph of his murdered family out of its frame because he was genuinely convinced of the danger that it could literally crumble into dust.

This is how his love spoke.

Bill Glied spoke of his father’s humiliation on the camp street in Auschwitz, when he was severely beaten because he failed to subserviently salute an SS officer, and then, after a brutal beating, bleeding … humbly apologized.

More than 70 years later, the son, then 13, still suffers boundlessly from the shattering image of a beaten father.

This is how his love speaks.

94-year-old Leon Schwarzbaum showed the court a family photo with his parents from Będzin, the home of his youth, a mere 30 miles north of the place of their death in Auschwitz. At 94, he is as immensely proud of his parents as he was back then when the photo was taken.

This is how his love speaks.

Erna de Vries lived her life with this creed: “I’m not leaving my mother.” Being what the Nazis called a “half Jew”, she was not condemned to end up in Auschwitz. Yet she chose to go to Auschwitz with her mother, knowing what awaited them there. Only minutes away from the gates of the gas chamber, she was “selected” out from the mass of those who were to be killed.

As a “mixed-blood”, she was supposed to live, after all, and perform slave labor for Siemens. A daughter’s ultimate loyalty to her mother until death.

This is how her love speaks.

I am coming to my conclusion:

The defendant is to be sentenced for accessory to murder. The court will have to determine the degree of the punishment, and my colleague Professor Dr. Nestler will make a statement on the severity of his participation in the crimes.

Yet I myself want to make a critical comment about one aspect of determining the punishment, the prospect of a mitigation of the sentence, held out to the defendant in just a few words by the prosecution.

And that is concerning the allegedly existing extenuating circumstance of “remorse”.

When I served as judge, I encountered remorse in defendants in many trials. In most cases, this remorse naturally ad logically followed a comprehensive confession. I do not remember any case in which the defendant assumed the role of a qualified spectator in crimes committed by anonymous third parties and then explicitly talked of “remorse”.

Hanning regrets having been a member of a criminal organization. But Hanning is not on trial for having been a member of the SS. He stressed that this organization is responsible for the deaths of many innocent people. Even now, Hanning only speaks of “deaths” and not of “murders”, which are the sole responsibility of the SS as an “organization”.

In the context of his meaningless written statement, I believe this “remorse” to be a farce and a mere continuation of his “silence”, because the statement merely served to obscure the true occurrences and his own responsibilities.

All I can do is vehemently assure the defendant that what he calls “remorse”, voiced on April 29 before this court, does not meet the conditions of the traditional extenuating circumstance of “remorse”.

The mitigation of the sentence as assumed by the prosecution will therefore not be applicable in the event that the defendant is sentenced.

If the defendant really wants to create a realistic basis for a significant mitigation of the sentence, he has only one more opportunity to do so when he has the “final word”, which he should make use of.

He still has a chance to explain his actual mental and concrete involvement in the crimes in a way that the word “remorse” does not sound like a continuation of the inveteracy and the denial of any personal responsibility in the ears of the joint plaintiffs.

The court will be receptive to genuine remorse; however late it comes.

Only then can he expect any real mitigation of his sentence.

Thomas Walther


Detmold, May 27, 2016


My name is Hedy Bohm. I was born in Oradea, Romania on May 11th, 1928. I was an only child to my parents, Elisabeth and Ignac Klein. My father was a master carpenter. As an only child, I was overprotected, and sheltered from the harsh realities of life.

My father was a gentle quiet man, I never once heard him raise his voice my entire life. My mother, a homemaker, was always there quietly managing our lives. My parents didn’t believe the rumors about the terrible things that were done to Jewish people as Hitler’s army took over one country after another. They were convinced the Hungarian government would not betray them. So we went peacefully to the ghetto when so ordered. We had to leave everything in our apartment and were allowed only a small suitcase to bring with us, nothing valuable, only the bare necessities. I had just turned 16 years of age.

Transports left daily, the Hungarian soldiers collecting people, from the buildings and marching them to where the cattle cars were waiting to take us away. We were in the ghetto about one month before they came for us around the end of May 1944. They pushed and shoved us. They put about eighty to ninety people in each cattle car. There was only standing room. We were like sardines in a can. We were given one pail of water, and another empty pail. The doors were locked from the outside and we were on our way. A very small window with barbed wire was our source of fresh air. With our bodies pressed close, the air became awful. There was no food or drink. The children and babies were crying. There was stench, hunger, thirst, and sick people moaning. The buckets overflowed with human waste. For three days and nights the train went, stopping at times, and then continuing. We didn’t know where we were going. We still believed we were being taken to work. I remember fanning my mom, when she complained she couldn’t breathe.

After those three days in the cattle car, the train finally stopped. We had arrived, but where were we? The doors were opened, and immediate chaos followed. There were shouts of, “OUT! OUT! FAST!” as we got out.

I was looking at a scene that was alien and incomprehensible. Immediately in front of me there were people pouring out of the cars; mostly women holding on to their children’s hands, or with babies in their arms, older people helping each other down. And overlooking all this were the black uniformed German guards with rifles pointing at us, others holding, large, snarling dogs on tight leashes. The guards and other men dressed in black and white striped uniforms were shouting at us to hurry. Beyond this swirling mass of frightened people, there were tall fenced enclosures as far as the eye could see. The physical size and scale of this place was beyond anything I had ever seen or heard about. Yet, it was overshadowed by the horror of what was being done.  There were barn like barracks lined up. Everyone was yelling and screaming; orders were being given rapidly, one after another.

The first order was for men to go to the left.  Before I could say goodbye, my kind gentle father was gone. I never saw him again. Women were ordered to proceed on the road ahead. I saw my mother way ahead of me and I ran to catch up. I was suddenly stopped by a rifle in front of me across my chest barring my way. The SS-man me, “NO”, pointing to the right, “Go there!” I begged him to let me go with my mom, quite far ahead by then, but he continued to bar my way. He repeated, “To the right!” I cried out after my mom. She heard me and turned, looking at me. Time stood still.  I don’t know if it was a moment, or a minute. I looked at her. Her eyes met mine. Then, without a word, she turned and marched on.  I was stunned and bewildered. This was beyond my understanding. I was totally alone, amongst strangers for first time in my life. I was in shock. Though I longed to see my mother again, I would never do so.

We were ordered to form rows of five and proceed ahead and then through the open gate.  We found out later that this was the section of the camps referred to as C Lager.  On entering the first barrack on our right, we were ordered to undress in preparation for a shower and disinfection. We were told to leave our clothes and shoes in a bundle and that we would find them on our return. We entered a grey, bare, concrete room
with showerheads above us on the ceiling. After our shower, we were ordered into the next room. Naked, dripping wet, trying to cover ourselves with our hands, we entered a large room, with men and women who shaved our heads and bodies of all hair. They then blew a yellow powder on our lower bodies. Next, we had to pass by a long table piled high with dresses, and were thrown a dress. It didn’t matter if it was too small or too big, that was what we had for the rest of our time there. I was given wooden-soled shoes. No panties, no slips, no bra, no socks, nothing but the dress and shoes.

Next, they ordered us to go and find ourselves a place in one of the large barracks referred to as blocks. C Lager had about 30 of them; lined up along barbed wire fences, with a wide path between them. Each block had several hundred women in them.  I went with a small group, walking along the wide lane. The big barn-like doors of the blocks were open. As we passed by, I saw that some had wooden bunkbeds.  Others had nothing but the same beaten earth that we were walking on outside.

In the middle of everything, was a tall guard tower, with armed SS-guards overseeing the compound at all times. We were told not to go close to the fence surrounding us or the guard would shoot. Some people committed suicide by running up to the electric fence and grabbing on to it. We were aware of being watched at all times.

As we passed by several structures, I noticed one on my left that had a window. The sun was shining, turning the glass pane into a mirror. I stopped to look. So did a half dozen others. I looked in the mirror at the strange faces looking back at me and didn’t recognize myself. Counting from my right I was third.  Then, counting the reflections of the faces in the window, I stared at the odd looking bald girl for some time, until I could accept that it was me.

I went towards the end of the camp and found in one barrack, what looked like a tiny unused spot on a wooden platform. I asked if it was occupied and was told no. I settled down there.

Soon I realized why it was available. The wooden slats covered only half the length of that spot. There was nothing to support my lower body. After a few uncomfortable nights curled up in a ball or trying to rest my legs on a frame post, I left and settled in another block with no beds, just the hard beaten earth to sleep on.

In C Lager one barrack served as our washroom.  It had wooden holes on a seat and several, large cement sinks with a faucet, where we could wash; cold water only.

Days and weeks went by. When it rained, the roof leaked in several places and puddles would form in my sleeping spot. I moved to the back to squat on the ledge of the concrete sink to stay dry, because everywhere else that was dry was jammed with people. Walking around the lager later, I discovered some help for this problem. I found three little bits of wood that were left over from the building of the structures. They were about 2-3 centimeters square and about 1 centimeter thick. The next time it rained, I put one piece under my knee, one under my hip and the third under my shoulder. It lifted me up a fraction above the puddle, and that is how I slept.

I convinced myself that my mother was in a similar place, and being intelligent and strong, she would survive. I told myself that we would meet again after the war. Until then, I had to do everything in my power to stay healthy, clean and well. I had to look after myself as best as possible under the circumstances.

I didn’t understand the place I was in, where it was, or what the purpose of it was. I didn’t know that the road my mother followed was taking her to the Crematorium, to be killed along with all the children, young mothers with babies in their arms and grandmothers I witnessed being led away by the Nazi soldiers. I had no idea and therefore kept on hoping and believing that one day this would all end and I would be reunited with my mom. I understood that my father being handicapped didn’t have a chance, but I kept on telling myself that my mother will survive, and we will be together again. All through the months in C Lager, and later in Germany, I kept on hoping and not knowing.

Every morning while it was still dark, I would go into the washroom barrack and take off my dress and shoes. I washed from head to toe in the cold water and dried myself with only my hands. I put my dress back on and would go back to my sleeping spot in time for the roll call. One night, I remember waking up to some unusual sounds of moaning, crying, and whispering. The next morning I was told that a woman gave birth. She was helped by several others who took the baby away afterwards to save the mother’s life. I didn’t understand at the time what was happening.

Our life in C Lager started out every morning with the roll calls. In front of the barracks, we formed columns in rows of five. The SS-guards referred to us as the “Heftlinge.” We were ordered to stand straight and not to move or talk. We stood like this for hours until the counting was done. SS-guards with whips enforced these rules. Sometimes the process was repeated if the numbers were thought to be off. This was exhausting. Sometimes I lost all feeling in parts of my body. When this process ended we had a few hours until it was repeated all over again in the afternoon.

Hunger was my constant companion.A barrel was brought to each block, and the contents ladled out in to bowls, or small pots. They were handed to the first person in a row of five to take a few sips and pass it on, until it was gone.

The first day after our three day journey in the cattle car without food and drink, I was very hungry.I hungrily watched the girl first in line as she took a sip from the bowl. She burst out crying, stopped drinking, and gave the bowl to the next person. When it came my turn and I took a sip, I understood why. That was not like any soup I ever tasted. It was a brown liquid, with almost nothing in it. No Meat, no potatoes, no carrots, no vegetables, or anything I recognized as food. There were twigs, floating around in it, little pebbles and a sandy residue. It tasted awful. I imagined my mother saying, “Drink it: for whatever nourishment may be there.  It will help you to survive.”  So I gulped down the terrible liquid, while tears flowed from my eyes. This and a piece of dark bread with a tiny square of jam, or cheese made up our daily ration for the next three months. We were starving. There were some who could not drink the so called “soup”.  They were the first to become ill, and get diarrhea that weakened them until they had no strength to walk. They were the first to perish.

One day, walking around between roll calls, I met a favorite classmate of mine,  Mazso. She was a talented, sweet girl, who sat behind me in class.  Two years earlier, I invited her to contribute to my “memory book”; a little diary like booklet of blank pages given to me by my parents, to be filled by my friends and family. She drew a lovely picture in ink, with her good wishes. She said, “Hedy, I have a favor to ask.”  I looked at her puzzled and asked, “What can I possibly do?”

She asked, “Do you remember my boyfriend?” I answered, “Yes, why?”She replied, “When you go home after the war, find him and tell him that I loved him very much.”

I asked, “Why are you telling me this?  You can tell him yourself, when you go home.”

She just looked at me with a gentle smile on her face and said, “I know I won’t go home, I won’t make it, but you will.” She was right.

I was selected and taken out of the camp shortly after to work in a factory.  I never saw her again. Selections were done by SS-officers and SS-guards daily. Hundreds of people were taken away never to be seen again. We did not know their fate. We wondered, was it better to go, or stay? Could it get worse, or maybe better?

Months went by with the same exhausting endless roll calls, selections and hunger.  Our crowded and insecure existence continued. One day, I went to visit my Aunt Margit, with her two daughters, Kato and Eva. No sooner than I arrived, whistles blew and orders were given for an immediate roll call. With no time to go back to my block, I lined up there. On that day, I was selected with my relatives, and about a thousand others. We were immediately marched out of Camp C to be disinfected, showered, dressed and made ready to be transported. After waiting a long time, we were ordered to go back toward our Camp C.  But instead, they opened a gate opposite to ours, and marched us in to an empty block. We were ordered to take off and return our dresses, and were locked in naked, without any explanation. Frightened, we huddled there through a whole day and night. When we were then let out, we were given our dresses and marched to the train station. There we were ordered to get into waiting cattle cars.

It was around the end of August 1944. I don’t remember exactly how long it took for us to reach our destination; I would estimate around two days. At one of the stops, they divided the train and left about 500 people, while the rest of us continued on. We had no idea what their fate would be. When the train stopped, we were ordered to form rows of five and march to our destination. We marched to an ammunition factory near Fallersleben, now Wolfsburg Germany.

Across the road from the factory was a bombed down building with the basement intact. That was to be our base, our home for the rest of the war, working as slave labour.  On April 14th, 1945, I was liberated by the American Armed Forces.  I was one of the fortunate few.

I survived.

Hedy Bohm


Testimony at the trial of Reinhold Hanning: Bill Glied, February 18, 2016

My name is William Glied but everyone calls me bill.

I was born in 1930 in the city of Subotica in the former Yugoslavia, now Serbia, into a prosperous Jewish family.

My father ran the local flourmill while my mother looked after my sister Aniko and me. We had a good life in Yugoslavia, I went to public school and never encountered anti-Semitism from my school mates.

On April 6th 1941 axis forces led by Germany attacked Yugoslavia and swiftly conquered it.

Subotica, my city and the province we lived in, Bačka, was ceded to Hungary and was thereafter ruled by the fascist Hungarian government.

In the following years, many anti-Semitic laws were enacted aimed at the substantial Jewish population. Nevertheless, I was allowed to attend school, which I did in spite the continued harassment by my teachers and classmates, in contrast to previous years.

I had to wear a large yellow star on my jacket, which added to the laughter and derision from my fellow students.

Our flourmill was confiscated and we were subjected to daily harassment and persecution, but were able to make out a living under these difficult circumstances.

In the spring of 1944 the German Nazi government discovered that the Hungarians were secretly negotiating with the western allies for a cease-fire. As a result on march 19th 1944 German troops occupied Hungary and installed a puppet government, led by Ferenc Szálasi and the Arrow Cross party.

From that moment the life of the Jews and my life turned from bad to worse.

In the next few weeks a whole series of anti Jewish laws were promulgated. I was expelled from school and a strict curfew was imposed on all Jews.

Within days posters were hung throughout our town ordering all Jews to report to the police headquarters for immediate “relocation to the east”.

My family was first shipped to the city of Szeged where we were housed in the former Jewish school, but in a few days we were again shipped out, now to the city of Baja, Hungary, to a very large brickyard. All the Jews from the surrounding towns and villages were gathered in this brickyard where our only accommodation were the open sheds where the bricks were formerly set to dry.

I don’t know how many days we spent in this brickyard, but they were days not weeks. Hungarian gendarmes and a few German officers guarded us.

One day we were informed that within days we were leaving to the east to work, but we were assured that only the able bodied men would be working, that we would have proper accommodation and food.

We were told that as there would be two trains leaving and we had a choice whether we want to be on train one, or two. After much arguing and discussion my family,–my parents and relatives– chose the first train on the assumption that this would give a better choice of accommodation.

Oh! The duplicity of it all!! The terrible irony of our choice: the second train wound up in Wiener Neustadt! All the people, including an aunt and a cousin on board the second train survived and came back unscathed. I think but am not sure that it was part of the Eichmann/Kasztner deal.

On the fateful day I expected to see a passenger train, but when the train arrived it consisted of a row of cattle-cars. We, aboard this first train, these dark cattle cars, were packed in like sardines. I don’t know how many of us were crowded in, men, women, children, sick people, somebody in a wheel chair, packages all over, people pushing and shoving trying to find a place to sit down.

My sister and I found a place to sit near the door and my parents right behind us sitting on the suitcase we brought with us. The train started going and in the first hour or two, my sister Aniko and I had no trouble, mom brought food with her, but then a problem arose in this cattle car: somebody needed to go to the toilet. Is there a washroom? A curtain for privacy? A container?

And we were in this terrible cattle car for two days and nights, no food, no water, no consideration for personal hygiene. Just humiliation – just another way to dehumanize us. The train stopped from time to time, sometimes for a few hours. They could have provided us with some provision or cleaned the place, but nothing. We were shut in like cattle, for whom these boxcars were originally intended.

On the third morning the train stopped. A few hours went by and then we heard some noises outside. The doors were flung open. I looked out, it was a bright sunny morning, may 28th to be exact, I saw a gravelled platform. On the far side in front of a fence some soldiers stood with rifles and on the platform itself a number of Nazi soldiers were walking with walking sticks, at least that’s what I thought they were. And among them a bunch of blue and gray pyjama clad men, with little round hats ran and shouted:

“Raus! Raus!” “Leave your packages in the car. You’ll get them later.”

We scrambled out of the car. I held my dads hand while Aniko, my sister, hung on to mom.

The chaos the tumult that ensued is indescribable. Babies crying, women calling for their husbands, arguments among people. The cloying stench which pervaded the whole area.

All the while the SS meandered among this swirling crowd viscously swinging their canes, splitting families apart, herding us like sheep to the slaughter. I was desperately scared. I clung to my dad’s hands and when the order from these pyjama clad men came, that the women and girls were to assembly into a column five wide, while we men and boys were to assemble into another column five wide, I began to panic. My dad tried to reassure me that everything will be all right and that now I have to act like a man and not like the thirteen-year-old boy I was.

When the columns were finally assembled to the satisfaction of these grey clad men, I could hear only a steady agonizing moaning and murmur from this desperate crowd interspersed with the crying of the children.

This sound still echoes in my ears, whenever I encounter a crowd shouting – even at a football match. I get claustrophobic.

Finally my column started to move forward and within minutes our row was in the front. What I saw was calmness. Three or four SS soldiers stood there, relaxed, nonchalantly looking at us. Some pyjama clad men stood on the side. One officer stood out, tall and handsome. I can’t recall his face. He stood there without saying a word.

A row of us bedraggled Jews came in front of him. He looked at us with contempt in his eye. And then he pointed to the person next to me. He waved his hand to the right and the man walked there to a group already assembled there

Then he looked at me, – I swear no more than a second – spoke nothing – didn’t ask my name, my age, where I came from. He just pointed to the right. I didn’t move. One of the pyjama clad men waved his hand furiously, while looking at me. I hurried to the group of men already standing in a cluster. A second later my father joined me.

What happened to the women’s column? Everything happened so fast, so chaotic, I never had a chance to think. All I know is that I never saw my mom and sister – never again. I didn’t say good bye to them didn’t hug or kissed them, they disappeared from my life forever.

Of course, I know now. And in my nightmares I see the columns disappearing over and over again.

In retrospect in my almost daily recurring thoughts, and they do recur every day, I see this piece of god forsaken earth—this ramp, as the worst piece of ground on earth. Worse than Dante’s seventh circle of hell. And as much as the bombing of Hiroshima, Dresden or London were terrible, this football size of ramp, this hell on earth surpasses them all. This site is the silent witness to the unbelievable occurrence where a small group of men, supported by some thousand SS men, guarding the place, condemned innocent people to a horrible death. Condemned, children with their mothers and old men and women. These heartless murderers decided with a flick of a finger, who is to live and who is to die. No warrant, no document, no judge nor jury. They could spare a person whose appearance they liked or condemn him to death because he wore a handlebar moustache.

Not accountable to anyone as long as they fulfilled the daily quota of human bodies to the factory of death.

And as much as the death factory that followed was terrible, it was -as Oscar Groening so recently said – simply the “process”, the execution of a predetermined fate, a fate decided by these few ss men on the ramp.

That in the twentieth century people from among the most cultivated of European nations were intent to wipe out a whole people from the face of the earth and that they nearly succeeded.

We were eventually led into a large building, told to undress. We stood there naked – I was shy and embarrassed in front of all these naked, grownups. Then other “pyjamas” came in and cut off all our hair. We were herded into another large hall. Shower heads were mounted on the beams above us and soon hot water spurted from them. I tried to wash off all the dirt from my body, my daddy helped, but there was no soap and water stopped flowing after a few minutes. There were no towels and so all of us wet were herded into the open

Where on long tables blue and grey pyjamas were spread out. I now realized that they were uniforms, jacket, pants, wooden shoes and a little round hat. We put it on to our wet bodies and were then marched in to an empty large barrack where we stayed for the next two weeks.

I could speak for hours of the various horrors that we discovered and experienced during those short weeks my father and I spent in this barrack.

The traumatic discovery and implication of what happened to those who were “unfit to work” the gas chambers and crematoria and what must have happened to my mother and sister and the other 18 close relatives who were with us in the cattle car.

The daily “appell”, the indiscriminate beating.

I carry with me and will forever carry one little incident. In the context of Auschwitz it is insignificant but to me life changing. We stood outside, my father and I on the main street of this row of barracks when an SS officer approached us, looked at my father and then gave him a tremendous backhanded slap to his face. “When I approach, you take off your hat, Schweinhund”. And my father stood there, now with his cap in his hand, and apologized. My father, the person who was like god to me, who was respected and admired by all who knew him, who could do no wrong, stood there beaten and humiliated.

I will never forget nor forgive this one incident. This incident that stays with me every day and will stay for the rest of my life.

I spent only twenty days in Auschwitz/Birkenau, but those twenty days seemed like twenty years. We were again packed into cattle cars and shipped into the heart of Germany to Dachau and from there directly to Kaufering. Both my father and I contacted typhoid fever and my father died on April 21st 1945 eight

Days before liberation. I survived and was liberated by the American army in Dachau on April 29th 1945.

I immigrated to Canada in 1947 as a 17 year orphan. I am married to my beautiful wife, have three daughters, all married, and eight grandchildren.

Why did I come to bear witness as a co-plaintiff? Not because of hate – I don’t know Herr Hanning – I came because while I don’t hate I cannot forget and it is my hope that the conviction of this SS officer will further still the disbelievers of the holocaust and the world will know that humanity cares. Thank you.

Testimony at the trial of Reinhold Hanning: Irene Weiss, February 18, 2016


My family lived in a small town in Hungary. My father had a lumber business. We were a family of six children, between the ages of 7 and 17. I was a schoolgirl of 13.

Life had already begun to change for us in 1940, when Hungary joined the alliance with Germany and began to institute the Nuremberg Laws. Jews who had lived there for generations had to prove their citizenship. My father’s business was confiscated by the government and given to a non-Jew. We were required to wear the yellow star. I was expelled from school.

In April 1944, it was announced that all Jews had to assemble at the town hall the next day, bringing with them not more than one suitcase each. My mother began preparing food to take with us without knowing where we were going. She also sewed some family jewelry into pieces of clothes, with the idea that it could later be exchanged for food for the children.

The next morning, the mayor, police chief, and my school principal knocked on the door. They demanded our valuables, and my father gave them some money and jewelry. We left our house, my father closed the gate behind us so our dog wouldn’t follow.

Along with the 100 or so other Jews in our town, we were taken to an abandoned brick factory in the city of Munkács, some miles away. There we joined hundreds of Jewish families from neighboring towns.

 We stayed there for about a month, sleeping on the crowded floor of the factory. Our food from home was soon gone, and we were dependent on a daily soup ration. One day there was an announcement that all girls under 16 must have their heads shaved or their fathers would be beaten. My mother gave me a kerchief to cover my newly shorn head.

In the middle of May 1944, a freight train arrived on the tracks alongside the factory. Loudspeakers announced that everyone must get into the train. No one told us our destination.

Flanked by guards, my family struggled to stay together, managing to get into the same boxcar along with some 80-100 people. For the sake of modesty, men moved to one side and women to the other. A guard slammed the door shut and bolted it from the outside. Instantly it was dark. The only air and light came from a small slit in the upper corner of the car. Hours later, the train began to move.

There was a bucket for the toilet in the middle of the car. Hours passed, two nights and a day. The bucket filled. Peering out the slit, my father confirmed our worst fear: the train was crossing into Poland. We had heard rumors of mass shootings of Jewish families in the forests of Nazi occupied Poland. We had never heard of Auschwitz.

Finally, on the morning of the third day, the train stopped. “We are at some kind of camp,” my father said. “There are barracks and prisoners in uniform. This must be a work camp.” We were relieved. The rumors had been wrong: we were not going to be shot in the forests of Poland.

When the doors of the train opened, we heard shouting, “Out! Out! Fast!

Leave everything behind!” Hearing that, my mother pulled out extra clothing and told us to put on more layers. My head was already covered with a kerchief, and I put on an over-sized winter coat.

Hundreds of people poured out of the train. Prisoners in striped uniforms jumped into the boxcars, began dumping suitcases and possessions onto the platform, and loading them into trucks.

On the platform, my family clutched at each other, trying to stay together in the crush of people, noise, and confusion. SS Guards with guns moved the huge crowd forward, up the platform.

An SS guard shouted, “Men to one side, women and children to the other!” In an instant, my father and 16-year-old brother disappeared into a column of men off to one side. I never saw them again.

My mother, my older sister, Serena, 17, my younger sister, Edith, 12, my two younger brothers, and I, joined a column of women and young children. Smoke billowed from a chimney in the distance. The column edged forward. When we reached the front of the line, our way was blocked by 10 or more SS guards. One held a small stick.

The SS guard with the stick motioned my older sister, Serena, to one side, and she moved down a road in that direction, disappearing from view. The guard motioned my mother and my two little brothers to the other side, and they also disappeared from view. Only my younger sister Edith and I remained. The stick came down between us.

Edith was sent in the direction that my mother went. The SS guard looked at me and hesitated for an instant. Although I was only 13, my kerchief and coat may have made me look older. He motioned me to go in the direction that Serena and the other young adults went, and turned his attention to the women and children lined up behind me.

Irene (second woman from left with a scarf) upon arrival at the

Irene (second woman from left with a scarf) separated during the selection at the “Rampe” from her sister and trying to see if she had caught up with her mother (higher resolution).

I didn’t move. I leaned over, peering into the crowd and trying to see if Edith had caught up with my mother and my two little brothers. Women and children continued to move in that direction. It was not possible to see what had happened to Edith in the fast-moving crowd. During the separation, we made normal assumptions that this was a work camp and that we would be reunited with the family. I was horrified that she would not find our mother. No names or identity information were taken. She would be lost to our family, alone among strangers.

 Our family had tried so hard to stay together, with the older children looking after the younger. We were now completely torn apart. The trauma of this separation lingers with me to this day.

The SS guards motioned for me to get going and I ran, catching up with Serena. “Why didn’t you go with Mom?” she said.

 Serena and I were directed into a bathhouse, where newly arrived women were shaved, disinfected, and handed prison clothes. We were then moved to a barrack with about 200 other women. We still didn’t know where we were. We asked the other prisoners, “When will we see our families?”

A woman pointed to a chimney and said, “Do you see the smoke? There is your family.”

I thought—“Why would anyone say such a thing?”

Serena and I were assigned to a bunk – basically a wide wooden shelf. Six of us shared one thin blanket. None of us could sleep. My sister tells me I cried for days.

We were awakened before dawn every morning for inspection or “Zähl Appell”. We were made to line up in the morning cold, five in a row, standing for hours to be counted. This was also another opportunity for the SS guards to pull out children they missed at the selection ramp, and those who looked sick. This was a very dangerous time for me because I was only 13 and small. I tried to stand on a rock, so that I would seem a little taller, and pinched my cheeks, so that I would look healthier.

By sheer luck, we discovered my mother’s two sisters, Roszi and Piri, in a nearby barrack. Their loving devotion helped to protect and shield us in this terrifying place.

After a month, numbers were tattooed on our arms. Soon after that, we were sent to work near crematoria # 4 at a storage and processing area that the prisoners called, “Kanada.” There we sorted through mountains of clothing, shoes, bedding, eyeglasses, toothbrushes, baby carriages, suitcases, books, pots and pans, and every other household item. We were ordered to hand over any valuables that were found among the belongings.

While at work one day, sorting clothing, I found my mother’s white dress, and beige shawl.

We worked outside day and night, to bring the belongings into the barracks, out of the weather. But the trucks kept bringing more and more from the platform and the crematoria, and the piles never became smaller. The piles reached as high as the roof of the barracks. Once the goods were sorted inside the barracks, we tied them into bundles. Male prisoners then came and loaded them into trucks.

It was clear that to the SS guards, we did not even have the value of slaves, but were less than human, and at any moment, for the slightest of reasons, or for no reason at all, they could exercise the power of life and death over us. One day I was part of a group of women in the bathhouse, when an SS guard entered. The naked women huddled to the side, opening a path for him, when he suddenly used his whip on us, as he passed. Was there a reason? He did it because he could. I also remember being marched from one part of the camp to another, when suddenly a guard unleashed his dog on my aunt Rozi. After a terrifying moment, the dog was called back. The other guards watched and laughed.

Because we worked and lived next to the gas chambers and crematoria, I had first-hand knowledge of what had happened to our families. Day and night, columns of women, children, and elderly would pass by our barrack and disappear into the gate that lead to the gas chambers.

Much later, in 1982 when I first saw the picture from the Auschwitz-Album showing me at the selection, I also found out what had happened to my mother and two little brothers in another picture:

Her two brothers (to the left) and her mother (kneeling behind) in the birch forest in Birkenau waiting near the gas chamber.

Her two brothers, Reuven and Gershon (left) and her mother, Leah (kneeling behind) in the birch forest in Birkenau waiting near the gas chamber (higher resolution).

My brothers Reuven, age 9, and Gershon, age 7, stand in the lower left. My mother Leah, age 44, is seated just behind them. They are waiting with others in a grove just outside of crematorium 4 and 5. My little sister Edith is not in the picture. I have to assume that she did not catch up to them and must have been alone. To this day, this realization causes me great sorrow. Soon after this picture was taken, everyone in the picture would be killed in the gas chambers.

The sounds were magnified when I worked outside at night in Canada. First, I would hear the whistle of the train, and the hissing of the steam engine arriving at the platform. The people coming from the train at night saw the fire from the chimneys and open pits where bodies were being burned, and began to scream and pray. I plugged my ears to block out the sound. Then there was silence. In the distance I would hear the whistle of another train arriving. Day and night, the transports kept coming.

In January 1945, as the Russian front approached, we were taken on a death march from Auschwitz into Germany. Those who stopped to rest or fell from exhaustion were shot on the spot. By the time we reached Ravensbrück, and then Neustadt-Glewe, we were sick and emaciated. My aunt Piri came down with Typhus and was taken away by a truck and killed. Soon after, Serena, was also selected for death. When I realized that we were about to be separated, I said, “I am her sister!” I was told, “You can go, too.”

We were put in a room with other selected women, awaiting a truck that would take us to be killed. Perhaps because of the approaching Russian front and the resulting chaos, the truck never came. Soon after, the guards fled and the remaining survivors drifted out of the camp.

In the years since I was in Auschwitz, I never talked about my father, other than to say that he didn’t survive. I couldn’t bear to talk about how he died.

He was a loving, gentle, kind person. When we were little, he found a fun way to teach us the Hebrew alphabet, so that we would be able to read the prayers. Our living room ceiling had wood beams, with knots in them. He would attach a coin to the tip of a broom handle, and when we performed well, he would lift the broom handle to the ceiling and hit a knot in the beam, causing the coin to fall, as if from heaven. We were delighted and amazed, and would run to the store across the street to buy candy with the coins. Every night, when he came home from work, we children would surround him, and he would give each of us his attention and love. His whole life was his family and his faith.

This was my father, aged 47, who upon arrival in Auschwitz, was forced to work in the Sonderkommando, pulling bodies from the gas chambers. We learned that he was in the Sonderkommando from a young man from our town, who passed us a note over an electrified fence separating us from crematorium 4. From this note, we learned that he was shot not long after being made to do this work.

We never learned what happened to my 16-year-old brother…… From my immediate family of eight, only Serena and I survived. All thirteen of my young cousins perished along with their mothers. When I saw children after the war, I stopped and stared. I had not seen children in almost a year and a half. Children were condemned to death in the world I had just come from.

Condemned to death, but what was their crime? Even as a thirteen year old, I knew that we were not the guilty ones, we were not the criminals. The SS guards, who tore families apart, herded mothers and children into the gas chambers, enslaved and starved innocent civilians, and kept this factory of death running, are the ones guilty of mass murder.

         The defendant might say, that he was merely a small cog in the machine. But if he were sitting here today wearing his SS uniform, I would tremble, and all the horror that I experienced as a 13-year old would return to me. To that 13-year-old, any person who wore that uniform in that place, represented terror and the depths to which humanity can sink, regardless of what function they performed. And today, at the age of 85, I still feel the same way.

Testimony at the trial of Reinhold Hanning: Max Eisen, February 18, 2016

My name is Tibor Eisen, also known as Max. I offer this testimony today as a witness to atrocities, horrors, and deprivations I experienced in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau from May 1944 to January 1945. I was born on March 15, 1929 in Moldava nad Bodvou, Czechoslovakia. A year prior to the war, the region in which I lived was annexed to Hungary. Like most Hungarian Jews, I was offered relative protection from the Nazis’ “final solution” until the final year of the war, when they initiated mass deportations of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.

In May 1944, at the age of fifteen, I was deported – along with my entire immediate family and the other 450 Jews living in my town – to a brickyard in the city of Kassa (Košice). From there, we were loaded into cattle cars. There were approximately 100 people crammed into each car, and I was forced to stand for the entire trip, which lasted 2 nights and 3 days. There was one pail of water and one pail for use as a shared toilet. The water was consumed almost immediately and the bucket was never refilled. The slop pail of urine and feces spilled all over the floor of the cattle car. The stench, the physical discomfort, and the deprivation of all of our senses was a deeply dehumanizing experience. Two people died in our car and we had to endure the presence of their bodies amongst us for the duration of the journey. I could not see my mother, who was still nursing my baby sister, Judit. Nor could I see my two younger brothers, who were hidden from view amongst the taller people. We all were separated and we could not communicate with one another. I recall falling asleep standing up and feeling hypnotized by the sound of the wheels on the rail track. Suddenly, the whistle of the locomotive woke me up. I thought that I was having a nightmare, but in actuality, I was living it.

When the train stopped, I heard the doors of other cattle cars being opened and I thought that my ordeal must be over. I imagined that there could be nothing worse than what I had just endured. When our door was opened, light flooded in and a prisoner wearing a striped uniform and cap yelled out to us, “RAUS, SCHNELL!” We were a wobbly group, hardly alive, groggy and weak. We were dejected, confused, and both physically and mentally exhausted after this very trying journey. The SS men on the platform deceived us with their behavior; they gave us the false impression that everything was in order here, which kept our group calm. Their uniforms with the various SS insignias and the skull and crossbones on their caps gave them the power to do as they pleased. The brutal system was endorsed without remorse.

My family and I had only a minute or two together on the platform and I was so happy to see my mother and my two brothers. I could see that my baby sister was not responsive, probably because my mother could not breastfeed her. We were numb from the shock of the journey, and confused by the harsh orders that were barked at us. Still, my mother, who was clearly concerned for our well being, projected strength and hope.

To one side of this platform there was a plume of flame and smoke, and I thought, this must be some kind of a factory. I smelled burning flesh. Beyond the floodlit platform, all was dark. The men in the striped outfits told us that our bundles would be delivered to us tomorrow. Forcefully and systematically, they separated the men and women into different columns. All older males and children were sent over to the women’s line. The men in striped outfits kept telling us that we would see each other tomorrow morning. There were no goodbyes spoken here.

I found myself in the men’s line with my father and my uncle. My grandfather, my grandmother, my mother (still holding baby Judit), my two younger siblings, and my aunt were all marched away. Everything happened swiftly and we had no time to think rationally. The Kapos told us that we would be reunited the next day. I didn’t have an opportunity to speak to my mother, nor did our eyes ever meet, and I wasn’t able to say any final words to her. I found out later that my mother, grandparents, and siblings were all gassed in Crematorium II.

My father, uncle, and I moved forward in a single column towards an SS officer wearing white gloves. He looked at each person and with a flick of his hands, he indicated whether that person should go to the right or left. My father went first, then my uncle, and I was next. He looked at me and sent me to the same group as my father and uncle. We were guarded by SS soldiers and marched through a forest of birch trees with the other men who had been selected from our transport. We entered a building called the “Sauna,” where more of the men in striped outfits ordered us to hand over any remaining documents and jewelry, and told us to strip naked. They took our clothes away, but permitted us to keep our boots.

            In the next stage of processing in the “Sauna,” our hair was cut from our heads, underarms, and groins by prisoners who wore striped uniforms. They had numbers and triangles printed on strips of cloth, which were sewn on their jackets. The man in charge of this unit wore a band on his arm that said Kapo (which meant boss) printed on it. The Kapos lined up the older people and had his men check if the new arrivals had gold crowns or fillings in their teeth. Those who did were taken aside, and their teeth were extracted on the spot with a pair of pliers. They ordered us to bend over and checked our rectums for hidden items.

            The next stage of our processing was the showers. I had never seen a shower before in my life and I was in awe of the installation. There were numerous showerheads and large wheels used to control the flow of the hot and cold water. Although I had been in a mikvah (ritual bath) at home, it was intimidating to be naked in a large group of naked strangers. We had to lay our boots on the edge of the shower while we bathed and we kept a good eye on them because we had custom made boots that would last for a long time. Suddenly the Kapo and his helpers started to collect our boots. When my father saw this, he warned us and we grabbed our boots and kept them under our arms while we showered. Had we lost these boots, our lives would have been even more at risk. Those who lost their boots were lucky if they got a pair of wooden clogs instead. These clogs were more like a piece of 2 inch x 4 inch wood with a canvas top stapled to it. Our boots were treasures that we had to guard day and night.

The cruelty of the SS guards first became apparent in the shower room. While we were showering, an SS soldier who stood by one of the big wheels that controlled the water temperature turned on hot, scalding water just for sport. As we tried to jump around to avoid getting burned, another soldier with his truncheon would beat us to get back under the showers. Then he turned on the freezing cold water. A young man who was showering with us held his eyeglasses in his hands. They had very thick lenses and he was obviously short sighted. The rush of water washed his glasses out of his hands, and when he got down on his knees to try and find them, an SS guard came over and kicked him in the side of the head with his jackboots. The young man rolled over and the guard continued to stomp on his chest. I could hear the cracking of ribs. The guard, who was now in a frenzy, continued to kick and stomp on the man until he was dead. The rest of us continued under the showers as if nothing had happened, but I was shocked and terrified. To this day, I can’t figure out what precipitated the guard’s horrible act. Perhaps he thought seeing a naked man on his hands and knees was comical and he wanted to continue to humiliate him.

After the processing in the Sauna was complete, we were marched, still naked, to a barrack where I was assigned to the middle of a triple-tiered wooden plank bunk without a mattress or blanket. After the ordeal of standing for 3 days and 2 nights in one spot in the cattle car, this bunk felt more like luxury and I instantly fell asleep from exhaustion.

We awakened early the next morning and ordered to go outside of the barrack where I had my first glimpse of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. It was a bright, sunny morning. Two inmates brought a canister of hot tea out and we were lined up to get bowls (Shissels) for a ladle of tea. This was the first liquid I had consumed in 3 days. My father asked the men who ladled out the tea, “when are we going to see our families?” The inmate laughed and asked my father, “where did you come from?” My father answered, “We arrived during the night from Hungary.” The inmate said, “this is 1944 and you do not know what this place is all about? Your families have gone through the chimney.” My father continued questioning him, but I could not understand their conversation. In my naivety, I thought, how does a person go through a chimney? I soon learned that this was the common vernacular used to describe the mass killing process in the camp.

We were given tattooed numbers. My father’s number was A9891, my number is A9892, and my Uncle Jeno’s number was A9893. We were given a camp striped uniform consisting of a cap, jacket, and pants. We had no underwear, socks, toilet paper, toothbrushes or any tool for grooming or care. We had no locker for storage. Whatever paltry belongings we had were on our body, day and night.

About one hundred of us were chosen for farm work and we were marched down the road to Auschwitz I. There, we were handed over to a Kapo named Heindrich, who was a psychopathic killer from a German jail. Heindrich introduced himself and told us that we were now in the Landwirtschaft Commando. The under-capo was a Polish political prisoner, Stasek, and the Commandant was Unterscharführer Kuntz, an Austrian. For the first few days in this commando, we had to harvest mustard with scythes and doing this work up to 10 hours a day caused my hands to blister, break open and bleed. They assigned us other backbreaking work, a list too long to recite here.

I lived on a 300 calorie diet a day, which consisted of a cup of tea in the morning and lunch was a ladle of soup that was mostly water and dinner was a cup of ersatz coffee, a thin slice of bread and a tiny square of margarine. This diet took a heavy toll on all of us. Our bodies were fast disappearing and breaking out in boils, and had my father and uncle not been with me, I would not have survived the first week in this place. I experienced the continuous pressure of hard work, beatings, very little food, and a body that was not functioning well. During the day’s exhausting work, there was no liquid given to us. I noticed that young men in their 20’s or so were falling by the wayside. They could not survive on this diet and simply gave up. The hunger drove some people to desperation – it was dehumanization by starvation. I recall one day when the daily soup was dished out, several inmates fought each other to push into the drum to get the last drop out. I made a decision then that, no matter what, I would never stoop to this level.

Another day after coming back from work, I saw my father and my uncle waiting for me inside the gate as they usually did. My unit was always the last to come back in the evening, and I always saw them waiting there for my return. A few times, they had managed to bring back a piece of bread or a potato during a work detail and they always shared their good fortune with me. As the work units came marching back to camp from their daily labor, the SS Sargent in charge of the gate scrutinized the prisoners to see if anyone was carrying contraband hidden under their jackets or pants. If he saw any suspicious demeanor, he would simply yell to the prisoner to lift up his hands and he pulled up his jacket. If he had anything hidden under his armpit, it would fall out. The SS would immediately take offenders out of the column and record their tattoo number and barrack. Eventually, back at Appel, the punishment would be meted out: sometimes lashes from a whip and sometimes reassignment to a Penal Unit (Strafkommando). In spite of all these punishments, when a prisoner managed to find something, he would always take the risk of trying to smuggle it into the camp. We were constantly vigilant for items that might improve our chances of survival. We called this process “organizuj” or “to organize.”

On this particular day, their unit was working near a barracks called “Canada” (a place where the belongings of murdered prisoners were stored and sorted) and a girl from our town recognized my father and managed to slip him a chunk of bacon wrapped in a rag. My father smuggled it into the camp under his jacket. He slipped the piece of bacon under my jacket while we were standing in a huddle and my uncle blocked the view so that nobody would see this transfer. I was surprised that I was holding a piece of bacon in my hand. Coming from a traditional Orthodox family, we did not eat pork and yet my father told me that I must eat a little piece of it every day.

As slave laborers, we had no lockers to store things, but I slept in the top floor of my barrack and I could reach the ceiling from my top bunk. Prior to receiving the bacon, I had managed to dislodge one of the tiles on the ceiling, which created a small secret storage space where I hid a few odds and ends, including pieces of rag. I hid the bacon in the space behind the tile. During the subsequent nights when the lights were out and everyone was confined to his bunk, I waited until everyone was asleep. When I was certain that nobody could observe me, I dislodged the ceiling tile and pulled out the bacon wrapped in my rag. Without a knife or any utensils, I chewed a small piece of the bacon. I could actually feel the energy flowing into my body from this sustenance. Every night, I had another bite, a small shot of this energy, and I am positive that this little bit of protein gave me the strength to face the next day.

In early July, another selection took place. My father and uncle and I were in separate blocks by this time. I was awakened from a dead sleep to shouts of “RAUS! SELEKTION!” By this time, I knew what selection meant. I remember wishing that the earth would open up and swallow me. There was nowhere to hide. We had to walk through a barrack, nude and in single file, where the SS doctors examined our bodies. A man right in front of me was stopped, and I continued to walk out the door. Had I hesitated one split second, I am sure I would have been on the list for the gas chamber. At this time, I was worried about whether my father and uncle made it through. I had to wait until morning to find out and when I ran to their barrack, they were no longer there. I knew the worst had happened. I had to run back to my barrack for Appel and for the rest of the day, I was consumed by worry. When I came back in the evening from our work site, I ran to the quarantine area and yelled out their names. Luckily, they came to the fence and we had only seconds to say goodbye. The SS guard in the tower was only 100 feet away and he yelled out to me to move or he would shoot. My father blessed me and told me that if I managed to survive, I must tell the world what happened here. Then he told me to hurry and leave, and that was the last time I saw him. I was devastated to be left all alone.

Twenty years ago, Dr. Carson Phillips who did volunteer work at the Auschwitz Museum Archives, found Nazi documents showing that on July 9th, 1944, my father and uncle were selected for medical experiments. This document exists as their last will and testament as well as their death warrant. I would like to submit these documents, in the original German and the English translation, along with my testimony for the Court to have as evidence.

Soon after my father and uncle were selected out, I received a life-threatening blow to the head by an SS guard. I lost a lot of blood and went into shock. I was thrown in a ditch on the job site. My feet would not hold me up. At the end of the day, I was put on a 2-wheel cart that contained all the shovels and other work implements. My fellow inmates transported me to the surgery in block 2l.

I was operated by prisoner doctors and a few days later, I was put on a stretcher with other injured prisoners who were destined for the gas chamber at Birkenau. Dr. Tadeusz Orzeszko, a Polish political prisoner and the chief surgeon in block 21, rescued me from the stretcher and took me back into the hospital. He gave me a lab coat and told me I was now an assistant to the operations of the surgery. I witnessed how this small camp hospital was all part of the deception. People did not have time to recover; many of them were loaded onto trucks shortly after medical procedures and sent to the gas chambers in Birkenau. The drivers of these trucks returned several hours later to the operating room where they pulled bloody rags from their pockets that were full of teeth with gold crowns and fillings that I was instructed to remove with the instruments available to me. I was shocked to learn of these scavengers, who were enriching themselves in such a gruesome way.

Reinhold Hanning may deny his role in these atrocities. Although I do not remember his face, I can tell you that from the first moment I got off the cattle car in Birkenau in May 1944 — dazed from lack of sleep, food, and water — I was a witness to the cruelty of the SS guards who controlled the camp. Each one of them functioned as a cog in a well-oiled and destructive machine. Each one played a role in dehumanizing slave laborers and contributing to the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

To conclude my testimony, I want to tell the Court and Reinhold Hanning that to this day, I must live with these horrific memories, the unspeakable trauma of Auschwitz, and the nightmares about my experiences there. In particular, I have a recurring nightmare in which I see my grandparents, my mother, my three siblings and my aunt locked inside a crowded gas chamber, where the gas is spreading from the floor upward to the ceiling, engulfing everyone inside. I see them suffocating and dying while the SS officers watched this death struggle through reinforced, glass peepholes. This thought will never leave me.

Statement to the Press from Counselors of Auschwitz-Survivors – February 10th, 2016

Legal Counsels Representing Co-Plaintiffs:

Attorney at Law Thomas Walther

Professor Cornelius Nestler

Attorney at Law Manuel Mayer


You will find a more detailed declaration in German on the website:



Trial against Reinhold Hanning before the Detmold District Court

We are the legal counsels of more than 25 Jewish co-plaintiffs. Their next of kin were murdered in Auschwitz between January 1943 and June 1944. Almost all of our clients were selected for labor on the ramp and survived Auschwitz, death marches and other camps of the SS.

It is the hope for justice that brings the co-plaintiffs to these proceedings.

The accused Hanning will be tried for his participation in the murder of our clients’ parents and siblings as well as the extermination of their families. Seventy years have passed since then. Pain and loss, decades of despairing nightmares surrounding the hell of Auschwitz will be heard before the Lüneburg District Court in the voices of those of our clients who will give testimony in the trial.

The co-plaintiffs wish to bear witness, and thereby also make evident to the broader public, what the “Holocaust” has brought upon them individually as well as their families. The co-plaintiffs place great emphasis on having the opportunity to describe to the court the consequences that any participation in these murderous deeds produced for their own individual lives. Justice will be granted to the co-plaintiffs only if the trial does not stop at presenting numbers of murdered victims but also grants a voice to parents and siblings, bringing an image of these persons to life. In the courtroom, robbed human dignity can be restituted by way of respect for the co-plaintiffs.

The co-plaintiffs have decided to participate in these proceedings fully aware of the great strain this will put on them individually. They have taken this burden upon themselves, even in old age, because they believe they owe it to their murdered families to be recognized in a German court case.

After the trial against Oskar Groening, these proceedings against Hanning are one further step to bring an end to a failure of justice that has lasted for almost 50 years. Also in these proceedings, the standards for culpable behavior are applied that were and are valid in any “normal” criminal proceeding 50 years ago as well as now.

And finally, the prosecution in the criminal proceedings against Hanning is taking the right path. The indictment against Hanning does not only include the murder of those victims who where taken to the gas chambers right after their arrival on the ramp, but the indictment also includes the systematic annihilation of those, who were selected for slave labour, due to the living conditions and particular the cruel death from starvation.

The trial promises justice, albeit far too late.


                                                                                                      Detmold, 10 February 2016

Kathleen Zahavi

May 9, 2015

The Trial of Oskar Groening  –  Statement of Kathleen Zahavi

I.              BACKGROUND

  1. I was born Kathleen Politzer on April 27, 1929 in Nyiregyhaza, a small city in Hungary, about 30 km from Budapest. It was a close-knit community.
  2. Our immediate family consisted of my father, Miksa Politzer, who owned a houseware store and worked on roofs, my mother, Rosa Politzer, (Neé Weinberger) and two older sisters, Ilona Klein (married) (14 years older than me) and my other sister (14 months older) named Magda. Between my mother and father there were 14 siblings. I had many cousins. We had wonderful times together and enjoyed many holidays with our extended family. In the summertime, I sometimes went to work with my father. I remember my uncle coming often to pick me up in a horse drawn carriage to take me to a farm to play with my cousins. There were five female cousins who I often played with. None of them survived the holocaust.
  3. There were about 10,000 Jews with an orthodox synagogue and a conservative synagogue in our city. My family belonged to the conservative synagogue. I also had many friends growing up, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
  4. My elementary school was in the same building as our synagogue. It was an all Jewish school. My high school was mixed, Jews and non-Jews. I continued to have a Jewish education in high school as once a week a rabbi would come into our school and teach us Hebrew and Jewish history. High school was where I first began to experience anti-Semitism. I had a math teacher who hated Jews and a physics teacher who always picked on us because we were Jewish. At that age, I simply could not understand what we would have done to make them hate us so much.
  5. Anti-Semitism was already rampant in Europe. Many people stopped shopping at Jewish stores, but they continued to shop at my father’s houseware store because he was a very respected man and he did not look very Jewish.


  1. On March 19, 1944 the Germans occupied Hungary. At first we were not affected.
  2. Later the Jewish children could no longer attend school. I would always see the Gestapo around wearing their long coats.
  3. On April 5, 1944 every Jew had to wear a yellow star on their clothes. When I was just finishing high school and we were taking the graduation photo, I remember my teacher telling me to try and hide my yellow star for the picture. I told her I would not because if I was forced to wear it everywhere else, why should I hide it for a picture?
  4. Along with the Gestapo, there were also Hungarian Gendarmes, who were local police. They were horrible to everyone.
  5. My brother-in-law was taken away by the Hungarian government to be part of a Jewish army. My father was taken away also and I never saw him again.
  6. On April 28, 1944 the Gendarmes were told to round up the Jews. They came to our house and told us to pack only what we absolutely needed and that we were going to a ghetto where Jews already lived. We didn’t have time to collect much of our belongings. I only remember bringing my toothbrush and whatever clothes I was wearing. We walked to the ghetto. We never returned to our house.
  7. In the ghetto, my immediate family lived with my two uncles, one with 3 children, and one with 5 and my aunt who had 2 children. The ghetto was completely closed off and no one could come in or out.
  8. Around May 6, 1944 the Gendarmes came for us in horse carriages and took us out of the ghetto. The Gendarmes took orders from the SS. I stayed together with my mother, my two sisters, and my aunt. Our family was taken to places called Harangod, which was situated on the outskirts of my city. Many Jews were brought there. It was even worse there than in the ghetto. The Gendarmes told us nothing. They only gave us orders. We were in stables.
  9. We had no washrooms, no showers, and we slept on a concrete floor. One day on or about May 16 or May 17 the Gendarmes told us we had to take even fewer belongings with us and march to the train station. Everyone marched together, women, children, old people, and pregnant women with babies.
  10. When we arrived at the train station, we saw many cattle cars. We were shoved in, as many people as they could fit into each car. When one was full, they closed the doors and filled the next. We really had no idea where we were going and what was going on.
  11. I was 15 at the time so maybe my mother and aunt knew a little more than I did. The conditions on the train were so horrible that many old people and children could not survive. There was one pail in the middle of the cattle car and we were told to use it as our washroom. There was another pail with some water in it.
  12. We had very little water and no food. I remember being in that car for several days.
  13. It was horrifying. People were dying all around me and the train stopped a few times to empty the pail and the dead bodies were thrown out. The train kept moving. We felt like animals. Actually, we were treated worse than animals.


  1. We arrived at the concentration camp before nightfall in “Auschwitz”, (“Lager”, in German). They opened the sliding door. Again, whoever survived, got off and they threw out the dead bodies with no respect for them. It was horrible. We were all very scared.
  2. As I got off the train, carrying my few remaining personal items, I saw 4 or 5 German SS soldiers in dark uniforms and boots standing at the gate. They were very aggressive. They were yelling at us to get in line. We were confused and had no idea where we were. One thing I distinctly remember was the 10 or 15 German shepherd dogs who were barking at us, held back on their leashes. I can still hear the barking even now. I can also recall seeing people in striped outfits.
  3. If anyone tried to run away, the German soldiers would either shoot them or let the dogs run after them as they were trained specially by the German army to be vicious.
  4. I was still together with my mother, aunt and two sisters when we got off the train. There was an SS man there who essentially was deciding who would live and who would die. We had to line up and then the SS man would send people either right or left. He kept yelling “MACHT SHNELL”, in German which meant “move fast”.
  5. They wanted to keep the younger and stronger people for work but they had no use for the weaker and older people.
  6. My mother and aunt were in their 50s or 60s so they were sent to the left and I never saw them again. We didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. Anyone pregnant or with a young infant went straight to the “left”. This line went straight to the gas chamber as we found out later.
  7.  I was small and skinny but my sister was holding me very tight so we were able to stay together and we were sent to the right.
  8. Then my two sisters and I were taken to a public washroom with female German soldiers. The barrels of the soldiers’ guns pushed us forward. The female soldiers stayed with us and told us to take our shoes off. The soldiers were all trying our shoes on but luckily mine did not fit any of them so I got them back.
  9. Afterwards, we were taken to another room where they shaved our heads. I was reunited with my sisters there and they made us strip down and we were given other clothes.
  10. There was A, B, and C camps with huge barracks numbered 1 – 11. I was put along with my sisters in camp C barrack 11. The barracks were like long warehouses with a concrete step in the middle. There were 30 or 40 women in our barrack.
  11. Along the sides, there were wooden bunk beds three levels high. Each bunk had a number. We were told to go in so we all found a place on the beds and we went in and lay down on the hard wood bunk.
  12. We had a “Block Eltezte” who was a Jewish woman in charge of the barrack. Her name was Alice and she was about 19 from Czechoslovakia. She had been in Auschwitz for 3-4 years so she resented us Hungarian Jews because we had only just arrived.
  13. One day, she was standing in the middle of the barrack and we asked her where our parents were. Her response has haunted me for my whole life. She called me over to a spot where we could see outside. She then pointed to the smoke coming from one of the buildings in the camp and said “there, that’s where your parents are.”
  14. It was so difficult for me to accept that my parents were murdered.
  15. We later found out that there were showers and those people who were sent left upon arrival went in but instead of water, gas came out of the showers. Some people died, some burned, and some pretended they were dead. Once in a while someone could survive by hiding among the dead bodies.
  16. There was a fence around the camp made of steel. Some people tried to go to the fence and they were electrocuted, as the fence was electric which we did not know in the beginning.
  17. In the mornings it was very cold out but every single morning around 3 or 4 o’clock we had to get up, go outside and stand in lines of 5. The Capos and the soldiers counted us.
  18. I would say there were around 300-400 people outside every morning. One thing I remember was that if someone was cold and decided to bring a blanket, they were taken and shot on the spot.
  19. Dr. Mengele was there with a few helpers from time to time. He would pick out all of the people that looked sick and send them away. I was very small so the other people from my barrack would hide me in the rows so I wasn’t chosen.
  20. One time, as I was walking back into the barrack Mengele put his arm on my shoulder and said, “You, out!” Across the street was Block 8, where I was taken. It was all children and I saw many friends of mine from before the war. When I got there, they began to count us right away. However, it started to rain so they decided to have us all go in and they would count us the following day. They hadn’t taken my number yet. I could not really imagine what I would do without my sisters so I just got up and ran back to Block 11 as fast as I possibly could.
  21. When I got to my block, Alice told me to go in immediately and hide in the beds. The next morning, Block 8 was empty. The kids had all been taken to the gas chambers 22. We were in Auschwitz for another few months and the conditions were just horrible.
  22. My sister Ilona always volunteered to help bring the food from the kitchen, which was 1km away, at 5 o’clock in the evening every day. By doing this, she was able to get us a little extra food.
  23. One day we were told that we were being taken to work. They took us, roughly 400 Hungarians, and put us on a train to Dachau. After that, we were taken to Bergen Belsen, where my sister Ilona died just after liberation.
  24. In all I lost over one hundred members of my family in the different camps.
  25. My sister Magda and I went back to Nyiregyhaza to stay with relatives.


  1. I will never be able to erase from my mind the day my life was shattered and how I was deprived of my youth, family and friends.
  2. Mr. Groening. In the news, you admitted to being morally responsible and you say you regret what you did, but that is not enough. You volunteered to be a member of the SS in the Nazi party. Yes, you are 93 now, but you have to carry the burden that you created for yourself when you were a young man. You knew what was happening in Auschwitz and you were very much a part of the horrors that took place that my family and so many others were forced to suffer. I hope that you will continue to remember these horrifying images for the rest of your life.
  3. Why were you permitted to grow old a free man after the atrocities you saw happening and in which you participated? My parents never had a chance to grow old like you; they did not walk me down the aisle at my wedding nor were they even there. They never had a chance to experience the joy of being grandparents. My children also never had the privilege of having grandparents.
  4. After liberation, I was free but not the same way you were. I had lost my parents, my treasured sister Ilona, virtually all of my cousins, my aunts and uncles and all of my childhood friends. Over 100 of my family members perished.
  5. My one sister Magda survived and is living in Israel with her husband and her children and grandchildren. She is a sad person and has never recovered from her experiences in the death camps.
  6. Today, I live in Toronto, Canada. I have two children, my daughter Irrit Ilana who is a retired teacher is named after my sister Ilona. Irrit is married to Gary, a lawyer, and they have two wonderful children, Daniel and Eric. My son Michael is a doctor and he is here with me in the courtroom today, to support me as I face Mr. Groenig, a demon of my past. Michael is married to Cindy, who is also a lawyer. They also have two beautiful children, Shawn and Erin. So the Nazis did not take us all.
  7. I will never forget or forgive. There can never be justice for me. At 86 years of age, I have come all this way from Canada because it is the least I can do for the memory of my lost family and friends who perished in Auschwitz and the other inhumane death camps.
  8. In closing, I want to personally thank Judge Thomas Walther for all that he has done, not only for the survivors of the Holocaust and our families, but for all mankind in helping to bring the accused to justice. His years of persistence have paid off.

Closing argument of Prof. Dr. Cornelius Nestler – July 8th, 2015

At the end of any criminal trial, three questions have to be answered: What has the accused done; how is his behavior to be assessed legally; what sentence is to be imposed?

But in this particular criminal proceeding, two additional questions are in need of answering. One is: Why now – why still, after all this time? What point is there in conducting a trial against a 94-year-old, 71 years after his crimes, and pronouncing him guilty? Thomas Walther has answered this question for our clients.

His closing statement shows: This is not a proceeding whose legitimacy is measured by formal criteria only, as would be the case in any “normal” criminal proceeding – measured by whether there are sufficient grounds for the suspicion that there has been an offense that, within our legal order, mandates an indictment and a trial. Instead, this proceeding receives its actual legitimacy from the co-plaintiffs: Regardless of what German society and its justice system are legally required to do – conducting this proceeding was necessary to offer the victims some satisfaction, to provide justice for the victims, finally and all too late; and to give the co-plaintiffs a forum to speak out on behalf of the victims.

In what follows, I will pursue the second question, a question that was also touched upon again and again in this trial, but a question which most of all determines the public perception of this proceeding: Why now – why only now? Why has it taken so long to indict Mr. Gröning?

The professional judges, the prosecutors and some of the co-plaintiffs’ counsels in this trial are familiar with the general line of argument that my reply will follow – and in particular they are familiar with the relevant documents to be found in the case file. And I am aware that each participant in this proceeding must consider whether his words and actions are justified in light of the limited stamina of the defendant. But when and where, if not here and today, at the end of this trial, is the right moment and is the right place to attempt an answer – an answer to how it is possible that a member of the SS who participated in the murder of the Jews in Auschwitz is on trial only 70 years later. And we are speaking about a case in which law enforcement authorities have known those things about the accused that are now the subject of the indictment for quite some time – since his first testimony as an accused in 1978 at the latest. How could it happen that this accused is on trial only now, more than three decades later? Our clients have asked us this question again and again, and I am convinced that the accused himself is also curious to hear the answer.

The history of the non-prosecution of this accused, like that of thousands of other members of the SS who participated in mass murder in Auschwitz, can be divided into four phases:

The first phase is the period of time when there was no systematic investigation of the mass murder of Auschwitz on the part of the German post-war judiciary. This inaction was an expression of the new Federal Republic’s politics towards the past (I am expressly using this term instead of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, i.e. coming to terms with the past); this inaction was an expression of the post-war society’s refusal to face up to its past and thereby also its responsibility for the Shoa. Only with the Ulm Einsatzgruppen Trial of 1958 did it become evident both from the perspective of criminal justice organization and politically that the existing practice of waiting for the coincidence of a witness to come forward with the charge that a certain individual had participated in the state-organized mass murder of the Jews was insufficient. The Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes is created (to be termed “Ludwigsburg” in what follows, for the town in which this office is based) – an institution to systematically initiate investigations, also against members of the SS who had been active in the extermination camps, including Auschwitz.

The subsequent second phase is that of the large Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, which ends with the judgment on the appeals by the 2nd Panel of the Federal Court of Justice in 1969. To our knowledge, Oskar Gröning has not yet appeared on the horizon of the law enforcement authorities at this time. And yet, this criminal trial is of outstanding significance for the subsequent history of the criminal prosecution of SS members who had participated in the murder of the European Jews. Here, a legal course was set that is of consequence even today.

The indictment of Mulka and others before the Frankfurt District Court did not only concern the industrial-style extermination of Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The concept behind the prosecution was precisely also to document all other forms of everyday murder in Auschwitz: by way of the choice of the persons to be accused in the trial and the crimes with which they were to be charged (for instance: selection for gassing among those camp inmates that were no longer fit to work; mass shootings; murder for medical purposes; arbitrary individual crimes). The concept that Fritz Bauer, the driving force behind this prosecution, had devised consisted in presenting a kaleidoscope of Auschwitz. At the same time, however, it entailed presenting a legal assessment of the murders in Auschwitz as a monumental photograph of a mass crime organized in the shape of a pyramid and by division of labor – that is, as a single offense. This concept, and in particular its practical consequence that any member of the camp personnel was a participant in this offense (i.e., in the killing of all human beings who had been murdered in the camp) merely and solely as a result of having been part of the camp personnel, was a concept the Frankfurt District Court did not want to follow. On the contrary, the verdict disassembles the industrially-organized mass murder into the smallest of individual pieces – it atomizes this mass murder, as Fritz Bauer termed it. This course of action on the part of the court was not only historically false, but it only worked because the assessments were in fact outright absurd and, as a consequence, legally wrong.

The verdict thereby becomes a reflection of the worldview of Chief Justice Hofmeyer who had initially resisted a trial with 22 accused, instead preferring to conduct separate proceedings against each one of the accused. This perspective on Auschwitz is the perspective of a former Wehrmacht staff judge, i.e. of a man serving in a position that, by way of the draconian severity of the death sentences, bolstered the Nazi system until its demise. This perspective – one may speculate given the judge’s past – endeavors to establish the largest possible distance from any systemic entanglement in Nazi crimes, therefore focusing exclusively on the individual and his actions, wherever possible.

The example of Mulka, the primary defendant and deputy commander of Auschwitz-Birkenau, makes the implications of this narrow perspective more than evident. Mulka was responsible also and in particular for the effective operation of the extermination activities in the gas chambers – this is described extensively in the indictment and even in the facts established by the court in its written verdict. But in the eyes of the court, on its own, this role of Mulka’s is not sufficient. The court searches for a concrete individual offense and finds two such offenses where Mulka forwarded two mission orders following Reich Security Head Office transport announcements, one where he acted as chief supervisor on the ramp, and one where he ordered improvements to the gas chamber seals – at the end of the trial, there is a conviction for these four cases only. One can only wonder what the court would have decided had it not been able to detect these four acts when establishing the facts of the trial. Would the deputy commander of Auschwitz have been acquitted? And how does the court arrive at this assessment that Fritz Bauer has appropriately called an elucidation of details in slow motion (Juristenzeitung 1967, 627)? The reason is that the court only ever understands a single act of extermination to constitute an offense. In the case of the murders in connection with the Reich Security Head Office transports, this is the murder of those people who arrived in a single transport. But if in the course of the Shoa, the murder of 6 million Jews, there was a complex of actions for which the criteria of an offense in the sense of a natural unit of action apply – those being uniform planning, spatial delimitation, standardized procedure – then that is the extermination of those Jews that were selected on the ramp and then murdered in the gas chambers. The decisive statements with which the District Court circumvents this consequence are the following: “The individual acts of extermination took place in each case by way of specific exercises of will on the part of the SS members scheduled for ramp service.” And – “the SS men concerned with (these operations) (had to) decide anew in each case” to undertake these specific exercises of will, i.e. their actions. This is grotesque: Every morning upon waking up or in each instance of receiving the order for ramp service, the men of the likes of the accused Gröning are to have decided anew to participate? How are we to imagine this decision of will to be taken anew each day – today I will do it again, but tomorrow I might not? This is absurd – to put it mildly. According to everything we know about the perpetrators of Auschwitz, they decided to participate at the outset of their activities in Auschwitz – they did not decide anew each day.

The 2nd Panel of the Federal Court of Justice upheld this verdict of 1965 in its judgment on the appeals presented four years later. But any legal practitioner who is not blind to the practical-political circumstances of this decision must have known and must know: Had the panel followed Bauer’s interpretation and the appeal presented by the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office – and had it, for instance, interpreted Mulka’s actions as aiding and abetting a single offense only – then the panel would have had to reverse the judgment, as the District Court had convicted Mulka for aiding and abetting four offenses. And there was a series of other decisions, among them some taken by the 2nd panel, to show that this decision of 1969 had not set in stone as a precedent the definition of an offense. Instead, there was certainly room for differentiation and alternative perspectives – of the kind that in the end also became the foundation for the indictment in this criminal proceeding.

The third phase is the period of time after the judgment on the appeal of the large Frankfurt Auschwitz verdict (in what follows, I will call this “the Auschwitz verdict” for simplicity’s sake) by the 2nd panel of the Federal Court of Justice. With its choice of the 22 accused, this trial’s indictment addressed but a snippet of the on-going Frankfurt prosecutor’s office’s investigations, which encompassed many more suspects. However, the Auschwitz verdict and its affirmation by the Federal Court of Justice set the course for handling the entirety of this investigation: One now had to be able to prove that a suspect had directly participated in an act of killing, which had to be narrowed down both with respect to time and place. We can presume, since no further information is available, that investigations against a whole series of SS members were not even initiated or in any case closed because it was impossible to present such proof.

But there were also proceedings in which proof of participation in a crime did exist, even according to the standards of the Auschwitz verdict. One was the proceeding against the members of the so-called motor pool (which is not part of the case files in this proceeding, Prosecution at Frankfurt District Court, 4 Js 1031/16 and 4 Js 798, 64). The accused had described in their interrogations that they had frequently transported persons who could not walk from the ramp to the gas chambers by truck. Even by the standards of the Auschwitz verdict, this was sufficient proof of participation in a concrete offense. But here, too, the standards set by the Auschwitz verdict resonated, just in a different way. The prosecution in this trial filed a motion to close the proceedings because the guilt was minor. I am quoting from the reasons given for closing the proceedings: “Assessing in total what happened in the concentration camp of Auschwitz, the members of the motor pool appear as small “underlings”. (…) Their contribution to the criminal act was far smaller than that of a selecting SS officer or an SS member immediately involved in the procedure.” The prosecution then looks at the sentences that the Frankfurt District Court had imposed. “In the case of SS doctor Frank who decided over life and death of the arriving persons on the ramp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, a sentence of five years of prison was determined – for the selection of a minimum of 1,000 persons for death by gas; and in the case of the former member of the political department, Dylewski, for his immediate participation in these selections a prison sentence of three and a half years.” These sentences were unjustifiably light. They became possible as the consequence of a jurisprudence that presented Hitler, Himmler and others as the main perpetrators, but most generally regarded everyone else who – as it was phrased – had not made Hitler’s criminal will his own to have been a mere aide. Like this, even Mulka, the adjutant, was turned into an aide; even the doctor who made the decision of life and death during selection – a mere aide. The head of the Frankfurt prosecution before the District Court, Dr. Rahn, draws the conclusion with his motion to the District Court to close the proceeding: “The sentences of guilt and punishment against this circle of persons have set standards. The guilt of the members of the motor pool can be measured against these convictions. Doing so, the latter’s guilt appears minor.”

It is only years later, in 1977, that the proceedings against 62 members of the so-called ‘administration of prisoner property’ is taken up, among them Oskar Gröning. He is interrogated as an accused on 5 January 1978 in Nienburg/Weser. This proceeding ends – as we have already discussed here in this trial – in 1985, when Chief Prosecutor Klein closes the proceeding. And he does so without presenting any reason: “Due to an overly full case schedule, the reasons for closing the proceedings are to be elaborated at a later time.” However, this never happened.

We therefore can only speculate what the reasons for closing this proceeding may have been. Minor guilt, as in the case of the motor pool? Had the accused, too, been nothing but an “underling”? After all, he had been SS Unterscharführer from early 1944 onwards, i.e. a sergeant. And one of the accused was Theodor Krätzer, Obersturmführer, head of the so-called ‘administration of prisoner property’ – had he, too, been nothing but an “underling”?

The same Chief Prosecutor Klein had previously found an alternative way of closing a proceeding – in April 1982, in another part of the proceedings that the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office conducted with respect to Auschwitz. In this proceeding against a Ludwig Armbrüster (not to be confused with Michael Armbrüster from the ‘administration of prisoner property’ proceedings) and others, members of various ‘Wachsturmbann’ companies were investigated. Their task had been to form a firm and closed circle of armed guards around the ramp in order to – I am quoting from the decision – “prevent escape attempts on the part of the arriving persons when they disembark and to bar unauthorized persons from access to the ramp.” Prosecutor Klein does not regard this ramp service as a type of conduct worthy of a criminal indictment and closes the proceeding, giving the following reasons: “Already the causality of their actions (i.e. the actions of the accused) for the success of the act of extermination is doubtful. Yes, the chain of posts around the ramp (…) was also to prevent inmates from escaping. (However,) it is not known that there ever would have been escape attempts from the ramp on the part of inmates.” Moreover, the entire planning and execution of the extermination had not centered on violence, but on deceiving the Jews, Klein elaborates. One could therefore not assume “that – had the chain of posts not stood around the ramp – the arriving deported Jews, or some of these persons, would have run into the fields upon disembarking into the strange environment.” Now – I will return later to the question whether this description of the function of the SS guards is accurate. In any case, prosecutor Klein has an additional argument: “Regardless, a larger number of armed SS guards, the officers of the political department and other SS members were immediately doing service on the ramp and already would have made an escape of this type seem unlikely.” These other SS members were, among others, the members of the so-called ‘administration of prisoner property’, and among them, Oskar Gröning.

Now, if the Wachsturmbann was not required for the extermination activities, then at least the SS men on the ramp were? No, they were not, and now prosecutor Klein presents his central argument, and one understands why the proceeding against the accused in the ‘administration of prisoner property’ complex was equally closed three years later. Prosecutor Klein divides the deported Jews into two groups. On the one hand there were the persons unfit for escape: the old, the ill, and the children with their mothers. And on the other hand, there were those fit for escape. But the latter – this being the first step of the argument – of course wanted to “remain with their families”, meaning that even the fit for escape “were not willing to escape in the beginning”. And – quote – “the following thought also has to be added, however. It is to be assumed that those who would have been fit and willing to escape were initially directed into the camp as fit for labor.”

So – to sum up the logic of these remarks: Those persons who were murdered were not able to and had no desire to escape. And the others, those that were fit to escape, were not murdered under the participation of the ramp service at all – they were directed into the camp as fit for labor.

Prosecutor Klein seems to have an inkling that there might be a problem with this reasoning after all – where it pertains to those who would have been fit for escape. Because many of these persons did – quote – “then perish in the camp from exhaustion, epidemics or as a result of selection”. But this approach is nipped in the bud – “It can no longer be established which and how many of the persons who arrived on the days on which the accused had served (on the ramp) later lost their lives in the camp.”

If we take prosecutor Klein by the words of these reasons for closing the proceeding in 1982, we can guess as to the reasons that he delayed “due to an overly full case schedule” and never put into words hence.

For the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office, then, the case of the former members of the ‘administration of prisoner property’, and consequently the Gröning case, would have been settled in 1985. And so it would have been, had not prosecutor Günther Feld, now active as a legal counsel for co-plaintiffs in our trial, indicted in September 1990 the very same Mr. Kühnemann with whom the accused Gröning had shared quarters in Auschwitz. Point 5 of this indictment issued by the Cologne prosecutor’s office reads: “The task of the accused as overseer of the removal unit consisted in supervising, first at the old and later at the new “ramp” (Birkenau), those inmates who had to unload the baggage from the cattle car transports of the Jews and then bring the baggage to the camps where the effects were stored. In doing so, he helped (…) safeguard the smooth progression of the industrially-organized mass killing of Jewish persons; and in particular with a view to the arrival of the next transports, respectively, whose trains were at times already waiting in the area of the Auschwitz camp.” This point of the indictment which – admitted by the Duisburg District Court – would probably have led to a conviction of Kühnemann had the latter not become unfit to stand trial is interesting for several reasons:

Naturally, prosecutor Feld, as well as the judges at the Duisburg District Court, was familiar with the 2nd panel’s 1969 judgment on the Auschwitz verdict. But Feld and the Duisburg judges evidently do not in the least let this prevent them from issuing and admitting an indictment – and why not: The supervision of the clearing unit on the ramp does constitute a – if one wants to use this term at all – concrete instance of contributing to a criminal offense. One merely has to assess this contribution appropriately in the context of the “smooth progression of the industrially-organized mass killing”. It is possible to indict, after all, despite the 2nd panel’s 1969 decision.

And now, as a result of the diverging legal opinion on behalf of the Cologne prosecutor’s office, the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office, in November 1990, was obliged to address once again the ‘administration of prisoner property’ proceeding – having closed the same proceeding without presenting any reasons in 1985. But Frankfurt readdressed it only for the amount of time it takes to write a memo and mail a case file: The prosecutor’s office now “discovers” that the accused whose place of residence had provided the grounds for the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office to have local jurisdiction over this issue – that this accused had passed away in 1979. So for six years, until closing the proceeding in 1985, Frankfurt had no longer had jurisdiction? In any case – the proceeding against Theodor Krätzer is reopened only to transfer it immediately to the prosecutor’s office of Kempten, Allgäu, which has local jurisdiction for this accused’s place of residence. Kempten, in turn, passes the proceeding on to the prosecutor’s office at the Munich I District Court due to the latter’s special jurisdiction over National Socialist crimes. What was decided there we do not know – we do know, though, that Theodor Krätzer seems not to have been indicted. When in 2014 in the context of this proceeding, my colleague Thomas Walther tried to learn what had happened to the Munich proceeding against Krätzer, the local prosecutor’s office denied Mr. Walther access to the case file to, in their words, respect Krätzer’s “postmortal privacy rights”.

And of course one would also like to know what happened to the proceedings against the other 61 accused in the context of the ‘administration of prisoner property’ – were they, too, also transferred to the respective prosecutor’s offices with local jurisdiction, or did the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office simply sweep the other accused under the rug?

At the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office, one will have assumed that the ‘administration of prisoner property’ issue was finally off the table after the transfer of the Krätzer proceeding to the Kempten prosecutor’s office in the winter of 1990. Yet, 15 years later, in 2005, Mr. Gröning gives the SPIEGEL an interview. He obviously does not consider there to be any criminal justice risk in also addressing his activities on the ramp. And why should he? If one analyzes the interrogations of witnesses and accused in the 1970s and 1980s, one will find that the former members of the ‘administration of prisoner property’ were aware that participation in the selection on the ramp was assessed to be participation in murder. But – and their testimonies are consistent in this respect – they did not have anything to do with the selection; at most they know that something of the like existed. The Kühnemann proceeding, then, had as its subject the supervision of the clearing unit on the ramp. On what this means, witness Struss, formerly a justice at the Duisburg District Court in the Kühnemann proceeding, has given us a vivid presentation – this means that what was now at issue was to have as little as possible to do with the supervision of the clearing unit. “Only” guarding the luggage, as Gröning reports to the SPIEGEL, appeared to be unproblematic, from a legal point of view.

In Ludwigsburg, the perspective is not as differentiated; there, someone sends the SPIEGEL article to the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office with the query whether Gröning’s assertions might provide grounds for the suspicion of aiding and abetting murder. Now-responsible prosecutor Galm, a long-time member of Chief Prosecutor Klein’s staff, looks into the case file and recognizes that Mr. Gröning told the SPIEGEL nothing beyond what the prosecution already knows from his interrogation as an accused in 1978 – and the prosecution had already closed this proceeding in 1985, albeit without giving any reason. Mr. Galm does not contemplate the indictment against Kühnemann issued by the Cologne prosecutor’s office – and presumably he does not even have the indictment in mind, as all the relevant case files were mailed to Kempten in 1990. However, prosecutor Galm obviously does remember prosecutor Klein’s motion to close the proceedings from 1982 – this being the one from the trial against the former members of the Wachsturmbann. From it, Galm copies the relevant paragraphs for his decision. There is a small problem in this, though: Not only are the facts of the case against Gröning different from the facts of the case against the former members of the Wachsturmbann in 1982. Moreover, when addressing the Wachsturmbann’s chain of posts that were further removed from the ramp, prosecutor Klein had precisely argued – you will remember – that it was already the presence of the SS members on the ramp – that is: men like Gröning – who in presenting a threat stifled any thought of escape in the arriving persons. Now Galm simply turns the argument on its head: “the purpose of his (Oskar Gröning’s) mission was not to prevent inmates from escaping (…). That was the task of the chain of posts set up by the Wachsturmbann.” This is clever: The one group, namely the Wachsturmbann, had the task of preventing escapes, but they were – as Klein had argued – expendable. The other group, men like Gröning, who were on the ramp were able to prevent escape attempts but, as Galm argued, this was not their purpose, after all. Ultimately, then, it is not too important to prosecutor Galm in 2005 what was or was not the purpose of the men on the ramp. “By the way”, he begins the next part of his reasoning, there is no causality in any case. And now prosecutor Galm copies verbatim prosecutor Klein’s motion to close the proceedings in 1982, thereby repeating the interpretation that those persons who had been selected for labor in the camp had not immediately been murdered, whereas the others had been murdered right away but had not wanted or been able to escape.

This reasoning is really noteworthy. First of all, it is very obviously wrong: Without the threat that the SS men on the ramp posed in this division of labor – and the witnesses in this trial have also and repeatedly attested to this – the concrete progression of the extermination would not have been possible. This only begins with the forced participation of the Kapos, the foremen, which was absolutely necessary for that progression – and the activities of the Kapos on the ramp are unthinkable without the armed SS members standing in the back.

Second, prosecutor Galm bases his legal reasoning on “sine qua non”, a rule of causation well known amongst lawyers. I want to take this rule literally for a moment and imagine what would have been without the SS at Auschwitz. I will spare us the answer.

It is downright fantastic that a prosecutor in 2005 rejects the causality of aiding and abetting with the rule of “conditio sine qua non.” Every second-semester student of law is taught the sentence with which Fischer’s standard commentary on the German Criminal Code introduces the section “Causality of aiding and abetting”: “According to the courts’ settled case law, the act of aiding and abetting does not need to be causal for the offense in the sense of conditio sine qua non” – some form of facilitation is sufficient. A prosecutor’s office that, contrary to settled case law, refers to academic doctrine to reject interpreting a set of actions as a case of aiding and abetting murder on the ramp in Auschwitz – this is unique manner of proceeding. Just to illustrate the standards for aiding and abetting in other cases, I will cast a brief glance at a trial conducted around the same time before the Hamburg Higher Regional Court. With respect to this trial, the Federal Court of Justice establishes in November 2006 that the accused Motassadeq aided and abetted murder in the attacks of September 11, 2001 insofar as he – among other things – transferred money into the account of Mohammed Atta’s landlord to cover up the latter’s presence in the U.S. before the attacks.

Transfer of rent payments – that is aiding and abetting the attacks of September 11th. And the SS’ ramp service in Auschwitz-Birkenau is not aiding and abetting? What, then, was the function of the SS men on the ramp? Perhaps a guard of honor for the persons on their way towards gruesome death in the gas chambers? This egregious reasoning on the part of prosecutor Galm never would have found its way to the public, and the trial here at the Knights’ Academy of Lüneburg never would have taken place had the history of the prosecution of Nazi crimes not taken an entirely surprising turn in a totally different context.

In September 2006, Bavarian local court judge Thomas Walther has himself transferred to Ludwigsburg. In his colleagues’ and superiors’ purely informal relaying of institutional knowledge that is customary at his new office, he learns that there is a specific precondition for initiating proceedings of National Socialist crimes: namely that there is evidence of immediate participation in a concrete act of killing – a concrete singular offense. This is not only frustrating – because there are still suspects among SS members who served in extermination camps, but there is practically never said “concrete singular offense”. What is more, he has to resort to the helpless reply “That’s the way it is here in Germany” when he is criticized by Eli Rosenbaum, head of the Office of Special Investigations in Washington, DC – an office that prosecutes both systematically and successfully those men and women in the U.S. that participated in National Socialist crimes. Walther does not content himself with this state of affairs. He googles and finds, rather coincidentally, the lengthy Matia verdict by the Ohio Northern District Court, which in 2002 had declared the denaturalization of John Demjanjuk lawful. According to this verdict, the evidence is unambiguous, Demjanjuk had been a guard in Sobibor. But nothing more is known, and in particular there is no proof of a so-called concrete singular offense. Walther now comes up with what he personally considers to be a new and innovative theory: the extermination camp as a factory in which every employee shares the responsibility for mass murder.

This initiative on Walther’s part, as well as the tireless work he subsequently undertakes together with his colleague Kirsten Goetze, do not only lead to the ultimate conviction of Demjanjuk by the Munich II District Court; what is more, they also spark the initiation of new investigations against a series of former SS members. Looking back, the series of events is outright absurd: Walther chances upon a verdict in Google, which the director of his office was presented with in 2003, but a few years earlier, during a visit to Washington, DC, and which Walther’s boss deemed irrelevant – the key phrase being “no concrete offense”. And to bring about a change in the practice of his office and, subsequently, also of the justice system, Walther first had to think up what he considered an entirely new theory – only to discover three years later, in the trial against Demjanjuk and to his great surprise, that this theory had already been settled case law of the courts in the 1960s where the extermination camps of the SS were concerned. In this sense, the Hagen District Court in its 1966 decision, for instance, speaks of the “functional participation” of all members of the SS camp squad in mass murder in Sobibor. And the Federal Court of Justice does not only affirm this decision, but in 1964 establishes in its judgment on participation in the special command of the Chelmno extermination camp: The accused “aided and abetted the killing of the victims (…) simply by way of their membership in the special command. The specific type of tasks that they (…) executed is therefore (…) of no significance.”

The director of the Central Office in Ludwigsburg, Chief Prosecutor Schrimm wrote a brief at the beginning of the proceedings of this trial (Sonderheft I, Bl. 22). It reads: “In the context of the decision of the Munich II District Court of 12 May 2011 on the subject of Demjanjuk, it appears advisable from the perspective of this office to examine to what extent GRÖNING had become part of the extermination machinery, even without there being individual proof of him committing a concrete offense.”

So this is the way it was – that is why for decades there were no investigations against former SS members active in Auschwitz and at other sites of extermination – because the Munich II District Court established a new legal position in 2011. Mr. Schrimm has claimed this ever since the Demjanjuk trial whenever the opportunity arose, and the media have since followed him in their ignorance of the actual circumstances. But this depiction is plain wrong! The proceeding against Demjanjuk merely initiated a change in the practice of Ludwigsburg as well as of the judiciary. The law has always been the same. There is the murder article, 211 StGB, in the version created by the National Socialists in 1941, and there are the rules on aiding and abetting. And the concrete acts of Mr. Gröning had been established in his interrogation as a defendant in 1978 at the latest: the administration of money and ramp duty. After all, prosecutor Galm had rejected reopening the proceeding in 2005 not because it was impossible to prove that Gröning had committed a concrete offense – but because Galm denied the causality of these concrete actions with respect to the murder of the Jews.

What was legally problematic after the Federal Court of Justice’s 1969 judgment on the Auschwitz verdict, if anything, was the question whether or not the murder of the Jews from the Reichssicherheitshauptamt transports could be conflated into a single offense. And with respect to this question, in particular, the Munich II District Court in its Demjanjuk decision does not venture onto new paths, but is in line with the Federal Court decision of 1969: In its interpretation, there is not one offense, but 16 offenses for 16 transports.

And yet, the proceeding against Demjanjuk marks the beginning of the fourth, the final phase of the prosecution of National Socialist crimes.

While the proceeding against Demjanjuk is still underway, Ludwigsburg takes action. In a first round with Kunz, a former Belzec guard, and Kalymon, Breyer, and Lipschis, suspects for whom the U.S. Office of Special Investigations delivers complete investigation packages, previously ignored for years by Ludwigsburg. Then the so-called 50er list of the former SS members of Auschwitz who are still alive, among them the accused. What Thomas Walther and I have been witnessing for years is a fiasco. Proceedings of this kind only materialize where a willing, dedicated and fast-working prosecutor happens to encounter a willing court and where the accused is still fit to stand trial. Only by way of example: In the case of Lipschis there was a dedicated prosecutor, but the court was unwilling and mobilized all the old arguments, especially the difficult to prove isolated offense argument. The Frankfurt prosecutor’s office that initially had jurisdiction over the Gröning case writes a long memo, included in our case file, first listing all the difficult legal problems (the 2nd panel in 1969 on the Auschwitz verdict and the definition of an offense); and then, the memo elaborates, there are also the great difficulties that an extensive investigation entails. Finally and luckily, the proceeding ends up with prosecutor Dr. Lehmann in Hannover and with the court here in Lüneburg. The matter of the definition of an offense is simple, in the end – one only has to read the indictment. And the factual questions of this trial took but a few days – factoring out the important testimonies of the co-plaintiffs. Here, a dedicated prosecutor met a court that feels committed to the law and is not guided by a desire to avoid conducting a complicated trial.

One is tempted to pronounce a great thank-you to this proceeding’s prosecutor and court. But that would be fundamentally wrong – it is outright forbidden to thank a prosecutor’s office and a court of law for having done what is their duty: to investigate and, if there is sufficient suspicion of an offense having been committed, to indict and to open proceedings. For this, there must not be thanks, even though emotions of this kind do arise when looking at the decades-long failure of justice and also at the developments of the past few years. However, gratitude is owed to you, Dr. Lehmann, and to the court and in particular to its presiding judge, Mr. Kompisch, for your treatment of the co-plaintiffs and their legal counsels. Because the motion for being admitted as a co-plaintiff can only be filed if one knows of which offense the defendant is accused: One needs to know the place, the time, and the act. Prosecutors who do not provide this information until after issuing the indictment can thwart any potential co-plaintiff. Dr. Lehmann did the contrary – without his transparency in dealing with us co-plaintiff counsels it would have been as good as impossible to prepare our co-plaintiffs for this proceeding in time. For this you deserve to be thanked assertively. And the court and its presiding judge deserve a big word of thanks for how you treated our clients – in an understanding, friendly, caring manner. Not only did you alleviate our clients’ strong fears – you have earned their greatest respect.

I am coming to a close: On the first page of the indictment, read here at the beginning of the trial, prosecutor Dr. Lehmann summarizes – his wording being very reserved – what Auschwitz was: an extermination camp not only for those who were killed immediately upon their arrival, but also for the other inmates. They all were doomed for “extermination by labor”, as the key phrase goes, and inhumane conditions. Anyone who was not transferred to another camp survived “the camp of Auschwitz only due to (his or her) liberation or escape.” Here it is summed up: The camp of Auschwitz – from 1942 onwards at the latest – as a mass extermination camp for all Jews. Dr. Lehmann was aware that to remain consistent with this reasoning one would have had to indict the accused for aiding and abetting all murders that took place in Auschwitz after his arrival in October 1941. However, the practical problems that could have arisen with such an indictment, particularly with regard to the old age of the accused and his ability to stand trial, were great. Dr. Lehmann therefore – I am quoting the indictment – “for the time being abstains from prosecution with regard to all acts of killing conducted outside of the ‘Hungarian Action’ proper, according to § 154 Abs. 1 Nr. 1 StPO.“ This decision was reasonable in the context of the trial – even though it factored out a large number of transports from other places, among them Greece, the Netherlands, France, and ghettos in Europe’s East, from which far more than 10,000 persons were murdered at the time of the ‘Hungarian Action’ and following exactly the same pattern. But the starting point of the indictment is important – aiding and abetting all murders that took place in Auschwitz in the period of time in which the accused was active in Auschwitz, thereby contributing to making possible the systematic mass murder that did not only take place in the gas chambers but that was the principle of all of Auschwitz. Between Fritz Bauer’s indictment and that of Dr. Lehmann, half a century has passed. This is how long it has taken for Fritz Bauer’s approach to once again become the starting point of a criminal proceeding. Bauer wrote: “The actions of any member of an extermination camp from his entry into the camp (…) to his departure” constitute an offense, “whatever he physically contributed to the administration of the camp and thereby to the ‘final solution’.”

The consequence of this statement is simple: Auschwitz is a place where no one should have participated. We do not know whether the accused Gröning already saw it this way at the time. And whether he submitted requests for relocation, as he claims, or whether he did not – in the end that is of no importance: Someone who submits requests for relocation but then even volunteers for ramp duty for his comrades, has not acted under duress, or even mistaken duress. But the story of the requests for relocation shows that the defendant Gröning, too, is today of the perception that he clearly expressed in his final statement: Auschwitz is a place where no one should have participated. Mr. Gröning did participate, and that is why he will be convicted for aiding and abetting mass murder.

Far too late, but not too late.