Oskar Groening is being tried on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, related to a period between May and July 1944 when around 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in Poland and most immediately gassed to death.
During that period, so many trains were arriving that often two would have to wait with closed doors as the first was “processed”, Groening testified at the Lueneburg state court.
Though he was more regularly assigned to the camp’s Auschwitz I section, he said he guarded the Birkenau ramp three times, including one busy 24-hour shift. The main gas chambers were located at Birkenau.
“The capacity of the gas chambers and the capacity of the crematoria were quite limited,” he said. “Someone said that 5,000 people were processed in 24 hours but I didn’t verify this. I didn’t know.
“For the sake of order we waited until train one was entirely processed and finished.”
Auschwitz survivors describe their arrival as chaotic, with Nazi guards yelling orders, dogs barking, and families being ripped apart. However, Groening, 93, maintained the opposite, saying “it was very orderly and not as strenuous” on the ramp at Birkenau.
“The process was the same as Auschwitz I,” he said. “The only difference was that there were no trucks. They all walked — some in one direction some, in another direction ... to where the crematoria and gas chambers were.”
No pleas are entered in the German system and Groening said as his trial opened that he considers himself “morally guilty”, but it was up to the court to decide if he was legally guilty. He faces between three and 15 years in prison if convicted in the trial, which is scheduled through July.
Eva Kor, 81, was one of the Jews who arrived at Auschwitz in 1944. Though she does not remember Groening, she said she can not forget the scene. Her two older sisters and parents were taken directly to the gas chambers, while she and her twin sister, both 10, were ripped away from their mother to be used as human guinea pigs for Dr Josef Mengele’s notorious experiments.
“All I remember is her arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled away,” Kor remembered. “I never even got to say goodbye.”
Kor, who now lives in Indiana, is one of more than 60 Auschwitz survivors and their families from the US, Canada, Israel, and elsewhere who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs as allowed under German law.