Auschwitz Survivors Frustrated With Pace of German Justice System

"Arbeit macht frei" - the entrance of Auschwitz. Source: Di Dnalor 01 - Opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0 at,

Auschwitz survivors, including two who recently met with Pope Francis when he toured the Nazi concentration camp, are asking Germany’s highest court to move quickly to try Oskar Gröning, 95, of complicity in 300,000 murders of prisoners at Auschwitz. Gröning was an SS soldier at the camp.

German authorities have been more aggressive recently in the prosecution of suspected Nazis, says Roman Kent, the 90-year-old president of the International Auschwitz Committee, a nongovernmental group that represents Holocaust survivors. But, he adds, that the pace of convictions is still not fast enough for death camp survivors.

Gröning was sentenced in July 2015 to four years in prison by a court in Lüneburg. His lawyers and representatives of dozens of co-plaintiffs in the case appealed the sentencing. The time needed to deal with legal technicalities has delayed the case from reaching Germany’s Federal Court of Justice. The Court of Justice is the highest in Germany for civil and criminal cases.

The appeal was formally received on March 22, according to Erna Besirovic, a justice official at the court. She said that the case was pending and that it had no date set for a hearing or other action.

Kent and a co-plaintiff from Hungary were among 80 Holocaust survivors who met the Pope on his recent trip to Poland.

For decades, German authorities would only prosecute those that they could concretely tie to specific criminal acts, through witnesses or other evidence. That approach changed after the trial of John Demjanjuk, a former Sobibor camp guard who lived and worked in the U.S. for many years after WWII. He was eventually sentenced to five years in jail by a court in Munich in 2011. He died in 2012 before his appeal was heard, so his conviction was not official, according to German law.

Decades of inaction by German authorities have left Auschwitz survivors critical of the German justice system. Their faith was renewed by the recent convictions of Gröning and another SS guard, Reinhold Hanning, who was sentenced to five years in jail for being an accessory to 170,000 cases of murder.

Christoph Huebner, vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said that “it is like being plunged into a bath of cold water; suddenly, again, nothing is happening.”

The central office for prosecuting Nazi crimes in Ludwigsburg hasn’t stopped pursuing cases against former Nazi death camp workers. Just last week, they announced that they are prosecuting four men and four women associated with the Stutthof camp near Gdansk, Poland.

Also last week, authorities said that they would not prosecute a 92-year-old woman who worked as a radio operator in Auschwitz after finding her unfit to stand trial.

In April, another former SS guard at Auschwitz who was scheduled for trial died before it could start.




Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE