Oskar Groening testified during his trial at the state court in Lueneburg, northern Germany, that he guarded prisoners’ baggage after they arrived at Auschwitz and collected money stolen from them. Prosecutors said that amounted to helping the death camp function.
Presiding Judge Franz Kompisch said Groening had decided to be part of the Nazis’ machinery of death.
Groening sat expressionless as the verdict was read and listened attentively for more than an hour and a half as the judge detailed the ruling, occasionally sipping from a bottle of water. He then walked out of the courtroom without talking to reporters.
The charges against Groening related to a period between May and July 1944 when hundreds of thousands of Jews from Hungary were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in Nazi-occupied Poland. Most were immediately gassed to death.
Unusually for trials of former Nazi camp guards, Groening has been open about his past throughout the proceedings.
Groening said when his trial opened in April that he bears a share of the moral guilt for atrocities at the camp but that it was up to judges to determine whether he is guilty under criminal law.
In their verdict, judges went beyond the three-and-a-half year sentence prosecutors had sought. Groening’s defence team had called for him to be acquitted, arguing that as far as the law is concerned he did not facilitate mass murder.
Kompisch said Groening deserved respect for having been open about what he did and having testified, but that given the enormity of the crime it would have been inappropriate to impose a lower sentence.
Both sides have a week to appeal.