The mercy plea of Oskar Gröning, a 96-year-old former Nazi officer, has been denied.
On July 15, 2015, Mr Gröning, who is also called the 'bookkeeper of Auschwitz', was condemned of being "guilty of aiding and abetting murder in three hundred thousand legally concurrent cases", referring to the 300,000 murders that took place in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz during the Second World War.
Former SS officer Oskar Gröning had a desk job at the death camp Auschwitz. He worked as a bookkeeper at the concentration camp and was responsible for collecting, sorting and counting money that was taken from clothing and luggage belonging to deportees that arrived at Auschwitz. In his view he "had no direct involvement" with the murders that took place in the death camp; he did not kill anyone while working as a bookkeeper.
During the trial of 2015, Oskar Gröning expressly admitted moral guilt, but not criminal guilt. The court decided that the ex Nazi officer Gröning was "guilty of aiding and abetting murder, because [...] he "knowingly assisted the perpetrator in word and deed to commit the felony or misdemeanor," by continuously aiding the concentration camp system at Birkenau ("Auschwitz 11"), which was by and large established to kill people".
In the past few years the lawyers of Mr Gröning challenged the jail sentence before several German courts. The lawyers of the former Nazi argued that serving time in jail would violate the right to life of Mr Gröning, considering his poor health, advanced age and frailty. A federal appeals court in Germany rejected this plea in 2016. A regional appeals court of Celle, Germany also rejected this in November 2017. It was stated that Oskar Gröning was considered to be physically fit enough to serve the four-year jail term. The Constitutional Court of Germany also rejected the same argument when this case was brought before the Constitutional Court in December 2017. According to the Judges of the Constitutional Court, carrying out Grönings' sentence "carried a special weight", taking into account the gravity of the crimes committed by the ex SS officer.
Then Mr Gröning lodged an appeal for clemency in Lüneburg, Germany but this plea for mercy was denied. The enforcement of the sentence of the ex SS officer would not breach his fundamental rights and the medical arrangements in prison are sufficient to see to the needs of Mr Gröning. The spokeswoman of the Prosecutor of Lüneburg, Wiebke Bethke, stated that she could not release further details due to privacy regulations. It is possible for Mr Gröning to appeal his clemency request to the Justice Ministry of Lower Saxony, Germany, where the trial of 2015 took place.
Only in the last few years, former Nazis who were not directly involved in the mass murder have been successfully convicted. It started with the prosecution and conviction in 2011 of John Demjanjuk, who was accused of accessory to the murder of 28,000 Jews at Sobibor, a concentration camp in German-occupied Poland.
The conviction of Mr Gröning marked a 'dramatic change' in German prosecution policy. The verdict of July 15, 2015 overturned a ruling of 1969 of the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), the Supreme Court of Germany, that working at a concentration camp like Auschwitz or knowing about the mass murders in itself was no indictable offense; no sufficient proof of guilt.
According to Ingo Müller, a historian who documented the failure of Germany to punish Nazi crimes after World War II in his book: "Hitler's Justice", the verdict of Mr Gröning in 2015 "was the last chance to overturn" the BGH ruling of 1969. In his opinion, the trial of 2015 of Oskar Gröning was the time "to make a conviction legally binding" and to "make a clear statement: Auschwitz was a murder machine. Auschwitz was murder, therefore anyone who helped at Auschwitz was an accessory." Ingo Müller said that finally there was "a German court ruling that says: Auschwitz in itself was a crime".
The conviction of Mr Gröning and the rejection of his plea for clemency will set a precedent which makes the prosecution of other alleged Nazi war criminals more feasible.[number of readers: 707]
A selection of relevant publications from the Peace Palace Library collection
- Andreadis-Papadimitriou, P., "Assistance in Mass Murder under Systems of Ill-treatment : The Case of Oskar Gröning", In: Journal of International Criminal Justice, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2017), pp. 157-174.
- Müller, I., Hitler's Justice. The Courts of the Third Reich, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1991.
- Ruiz Fabri, H. (dir.)(et al.), La Clémence Saisie par le Droit: Amnistie, Prescription et Grâce en Droit International Comparé, Paris, Société de Législation Comparée, 2007.