Auschwitz survivors testify at trial

Three survivors spoke of the smell of burnt bodies and piles of dead people at Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz camp at the trial of a former guard accused of helping in the murder of at least 170,000 people.

Auschwitz survivors testify at trial

“If your ribs were visible, you were a candidate for the crematorium,” said Leon Schwarzbaum, 94, a survivor who lost 35 family members in the Holocaust.

He was speaking on the second day of the trial of Reinhold Hanning, also 94, who remained largely silent .

Mr Hanning — who was 20 in 1942 when he joined the camp as a guard — slowly walked into court where hearings are restricted to two hours given his age.

Defence lawyer Johannes Salmen said a written statement would be read out on behalf of Hanning at a later stage of the trial. He added it was possible Mr Hanning would also give a statement.

Accused by the prosecutor’s office in Dortmund as well as by 40 joint plaintiffs from Hungary, Israel, the US, Canada, Britain, and Germany, Mr Hanning is said to have joined the SS forces voluntarily at the age of 18 in 1940. Although he was not directly involved in killings, prosecutors accuse him of expediting, or at least facilitating, the slaughter, in his capacity as a guard, of 1.2m people, most of them Jews.

A precedent for such charges was set in 2011, when death camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk was convicted.

In an earlier statement to the prosecution, Mr Hanning admitted to being a guard, but denied any involvement in the mass killings.

“We could see fire coming out the chimneys and it smelled of burned people unbearably,” Mr Schwarzbaum said when asked if it was possible that the guards were unaware of the murders.

Witness Erna de Vries said she had to walk past piles of dead bodies each day on her way to forced labour in 1942, as the Nazis could not keep up with burning the bodies of people gassed to death.

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