A 94-year-old former SS sergeant has told a German court he is “ashamed” that he served as a guard in the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp.
Reinhold Hanning apologised to Holocaust survivors looking on in the courtroom for doing nothing to try to stop what was going on, even though he was aware Jews were being gassed and their corpses burned.
He told the Detmold state court he had never spoken about his service in Auschwitz from January 1942 to June 1944, even to his family, but wanted to use his trial as an opportunity to set the record straight.
Sitting in a wheelchair and speaking into a microphone with a weak voice, he said: “I want to say it disturbs me deeply that I was part of such a criminal organisation.
“I am ashamed that I saw injustice and never did anything about it and I apologise for my actions. I am sorry.”
As he spoke, Auschwitz survivor Leon Schwarzbaum watched from five metres away with a steely face.
He said afterwards he was happy that Hanning apologised but it was not enough.
The 95-year-old said: “I lost 35 family members, how can you apologise for that?
“I am not angry, I don’t want him to go to prison but he should say more for the sake of the young generation today because the historical truth is important.”
Hanning is charged with 170,000 counts of accessory to murder on allegations that as a guard he helped the death camp function, so can legally be found guilty of accessory to murder.
Prosecutor Andreas Brendel said there was good evidence already that Hanning served in the camp, but that his admission yesterday could help win a conviction.
Pleas are not entered in the German system and such statements to the court are not uncommon, and frequently help mitigate the length of a sentence.
Hanning faces a possible 15 years in prison if convicted, but at his age it is unlikely he will ever spend time behind bars given the length of the appeals process.
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