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29. June 2015: Gröning trial – final speech of the defence

Thomas Walther: "And we sense and suffer each and every day the memories of our wept and unwept tears."

Your Honour,

The Public Prosecutor has aptly summed up the results of the hearing of evidence.

I have just a few remarks to add to the Public Prosecutor’s statements.  

My concluding argument is concerned mainly with something different. I shall be speaking about the significance of this trial for the joint plaintiffs represented by ourselves 71 years after the murder of their relatives.

71 years ago, in the early morning of 1 July 1944, 18-year-old Eva Pusztai – now 89 and a joint plaintiff in these court proceedings – was a naïve young girl from a protected family in Debrecen who was herded along the ramp where Gröning performed his duties in Auschwitz-Birkenau and into the forecourt of hell.

On 16 May, the so-called Hungarian Action had begun in Birkenau.

The court and all of the participants in the proceedings have experienced everything we have been able to accomplish between 16 May 2015 up to this day and presumably on the following days until 11 July 2015. It was precisely in this timeframe, 71 years ago, that 427,000 Hungarian Jews were transported to Auschwitz, of whom 300,000 were murdered immediately on their arrival.

These victims of murder included the families of our clients.

Eva Pusztai and 13 additional joint plaintiffs have given statements during this trial. In the witness stand they have described all of the things which, in the words of the defendant, represented the processing of transport trains from Hungary that took place in a calm atmosphere. In his description he used the expression of “tending to” the arriving Jews. In his estimation up to 5,000 were “tended to” in a day. He meant “gassed”, he meant murdered, industrially annihilated, burned and discarded as ashes.

Irene Weiss was the last of these witnesses to speak. In this courtroom we heard the voice of the then 13-year-old Jewish child telling about her arrival in Auschwitz in May 1944 and her own constant fear of death after her mother and siblings had been murdered. Her arrival on the ramp was documented in photos taken by the SS. One of the SS-Unterscharführer (junior squad leaders/corporals) visible on the ramp photos could well be Mr Gröning. Irene Weiss described the photo which depicts her on the ramp, looking towards her own family as they disappear in the direction of Gas Chamber No.4. Irene Weiss showed her mother together with her brothers Gershon and Reuven on a different photo, while they were made to wait a final hour in the copse of birch tree, the Birkenwäldchen, until they too could be “tended to”, as Mr Gröning called the gassing. Nobody will ever be able to forget the expressions on the faces of the brothers Gershon and Reuven.

At the beginning of my remarks I would like to refer to the expectations of the joint plaintiffs represented by us and which we have repeatedly made public. Their concern was, and is, the establishment of a dialogue after the 70-year silence. By this, they mean a dialogue with the German judiciary, as well as a dialogue with the defendant.

On behalf of the judiciary, this court has led and fostered the dialogue with the joint plaintiffs in the witness stand in an exemplary way.

Yesterday, Mr Gröning again issued a statement through his lawyer. In formal terms this means that he too has participated in the dialogue.

The statements of the 14 joint plaintiffs have clearly induced Oskar Gröning to speak out again. The specialist medical report on the competency to stand trial, carried out by Dr Friedrich and dated 11.06.2015, describes the effects of the witnesses’ statements on Mr Gröning. During the evaluation, Mr Gröning told the expert that he is troubled by depressive dreams with memories of the war as well as the contents of the trial. And he said, [quote] “that he could not free himself of the scenes on the ramp, and that he also realised that previously in many cases he had not thought through to the end the extent of the suffering.” [end of quote]

When I have concluded my remarks, you will recognise why Mr Gröning’s supplementary statement is disappointing for the joint plaintiffs.

I would now like to return the focus of my remarks to Auschwitz-Birkenau where, during World War II, the SS and the man now standing accused carried out the industrialised murder of the European Jews, in other words, of millions of unarmed civilians.

 “Nothing – nothing should ever happen in war which would make a future peace and reconciliation impossible...”, as Kant said in his philosophical essay “Perpetual Peace”.

Consequently, Auschwitz – and the Holocaust – should never have been allowed to happen.

Outrage is of no help here; nor is compassion.

Together with my colleague Cornelius Nestler, I am representing 51 joint plaintiffs. I have conducted long conversations and interviews with many of them in the year preceding this trial. They are unable to be here today as a result of their old age. Consequently, I am permitted to lend my voice to the plaintiffs and speak in the first person plural, using the words of my clients, about “that which never should have been allowed to happen during this war”, and to say the following:

We survivors of Auschwitz have the right to accuse, and for our murdered families, we have the duty to do so.

We accuse for the suffering and loss, we accuse for our loneliness, we accuse for the cruellest of killing, we accuse for the many millions of missing kaddish recitals beside the deathbeds of our murdered relatives whose voices were silenced in Auschwitz. We accuse because of time, which heals no wounds, but instead burns them deeper into our souls. We accuse for the screams within ourselves, which we are still suppressing to this day so that we can be accepted as “normal people”.

And we sense and suffer each and every day the memories of our wept and unwept tears.

Meanwhile, after the many decades, we have also matured in the experience of dying, because we are accompanying our own generation of survivors across the threshold to death. We had to learn the ritual of sitting shiva in mourning for our dead very late in our lives. Our own preceding generations were denied the presence of our mourning and thrown away with the ashes of Auschwitz into all four winds, the rivers and the swamps. Our parents could not teach us any Jewish burial ritual.

And when WE no longer are, WHO will remember?

Will the world preserve the capacity to remember, or will the collective forgetting gain the upper hand some day?

Every aspect of our accusation abides within us. This death in Auschwitz is a part of our lives.

We only discovered from our lawyers, that we would be able to bring our ever-present charge before this German court in the criminal proceedings against Oskar Gröning and that we would be heard with our personal sufferings and our charges.

We were able to bear witness as joint plaintiffs.

All of our questions abide within us. These questions are a part of our lives.

As the representative of my clients I will in the following try to find the answers to some of these questions.

Why is it that after the end of the war70 years have had to pass before our lawyers are able to bring us to testify at this trial against one of the SS men, without whom the murder of the Jews of Europe in Auschwitz would not have been possible? In keeping with Kant, “Auschwitz would never have happened during this war” without these SS men, men such as Gröning.

The incapability of Auschwitz perpetrators and helpers to use the word MURDER with its clarity beyond all doubt for their own participation, and instead to hide themselves behind the SS chains of command, also applies to Oskar Gröning. The catastrophic consequence of this unconditional obedience to orders is the total abandonment of responsibility.

This becomes more than evident in Mr Gröning’s supplementary statement. He refers to “the convenience of obedience that allowed no contradictions” and says, that he had nothing to do with the actual murders. He simply contributed so that the “Auschwitz camp functioned” . He does not associate himself at all with the machinery of murder. Day after day he registered the “barbarities” and yet still speaks about the Hungarian Action in a way as if thousands of travellers were simply being handled or “tended to” in the shortest possible time.

Gröning’s transfer of his own GUILT of MURDER into the realm of MORALS creates a relativizing degradation of life. Our Jewish human life is not subject to a determination of the right to life by some form of moral understanding. Oskar Gröning’s own SELF was able to hide unrecognised behind the complex social and political deformation that prepared the way for the barbaric slaughter of innocent human beings.

But why was the judicial system as the “third pillar” in the state incapable for many decades of using the word MURDER with its clarity beyond all doubt for the participation of all those SS men in Auschwitz, without whom and in keeping with Kant “Auschwitz would never have happened during this war”?

My colleague Professor Cornelius Nestler will address this question in more detail.

However, I would now like to point out a striking connection between these two questions.

The already mentioned complex social and political deformation which prepared the way for the realization of the most unthinkable crime against humanity, and for which Auschwitz stands as a warning sign, definitely did not dissolve into “nothingness” after the capitulation of 7 May 1945 or with the founding of the Federal Republic on 23 May 1949. Even the judgement in the first Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial 50 years ago was unable to bring about a transformation that made it possible to contemplate the accessory to MURDER and the COMPLICITY in this crime against humanity with the same legal matter-of-factness that has been commonplace for decades in all other areas of crime.

My colleague Cornelius Nestler will also be addressing this in more detail.

Consequently, Gröning has been operating in compliance with the inabilities of the judiciary and in a slipstream that was at least tolerated for decades.

For the joint plaintiffs in this trial this is a painful truth in view of the past. But, in retrospect, it is helpful in understanding this wall of silence. In the presence of this criminal trial this understanding in turn generates profound respect and gratitude on the part of the joint plaintiffs, that a belated shift in thinking within the German judiciary was nevertheless still possible.

Another of the joint plaintiffs’ questions also requires answering. It concerns the uninhibited murder of children.

Last year, at an international school in Toronto, I talked about Auschwitz with students who were only 11 or 12 years old. They themselves were children. Their parents come from every country imaginable. I was amazed. These children had already read the Diary of Anne Frank in class and had taken part in additional classes on the Holocaust. In the end, when all of the children’s questions had been answered, a girl put up her hand again and hesitantly asked me:

“Do you know,” she said, “what they did to the children?”

The child was clearly thinking about itself. And today, these words take me to my third complex of questions.

All of our clients have spoken about the murder of their siblings. About the murder of children like Gilike, the sister of Eva Pusztai, or Evike, the half-sister of Judith and Elaine Kalman, or about Gershon and Reuven, the brothers of Irene Weiss.

What does the murder of these defenceless brothers and sisters mean to our clients, of these children to those condemned to life?

To be precise: tears. Never ending. Repeated tears, even after 71 years.

The dead brothers and sisters are buried deep in the minds of the living. Years and decades freeze. No leaf falls from the tree before the eyes of these children. No ray of sunshine welcomes the hope of a new morning.

The surviving siblings, themselves still children, are horrified to recognise a society in Germany after the end of the war which had legalised the mass murder of children according to the prevailing state morality. – Only 11% of the Jewish children survived the Holocaust. These few “children” were in fact already “old people” whose extremely severe post-traumatic disorders accompany them to this day. And in fact: into this very courtroom.

And decades later, therapists still had to learn what the different hells that had been endured in the hells of Auschwitz, Flossenbürg, Dachau or Ebensee permanently meant to and how they affected the mutations of each child’s soul.

Every child in the world is aware of the fear of abandonment. All fathers and mothers in this world have experienced the tears and the tiny outstretched arms, because they – the parents – should not leave their side. All the world cultures have respected this archetypal need throughout human history. – And in a diabolical way this children’s fear of abandonment was reversed and instrumentalised in Auschwitz. Babies, toddlers and children were left with their mothers. In this way panic could be avoided and the illusion upheld that the people were going on a transport together – but first to the showers, as was the case with Reuven and Gershon together with Irene Weiss’s mother. The mothers’ determination to stay with and care for their children meant certain death for all of these mothers from the outset.

Beneath the vigilant gaze of the SS men, only a place like Auschwitz was able to send the babies and children to their deaths in an endless column of people doomed to die, and to abandon the surviving siblings to absolute emptiness – a hellish void. There were no children anymore from their own world; within minutes they had been lost forever on the ramp.

And our clients? – They were left alone for decades with their questions about the responsibility of all those, without whom Hitler, Himmler, Göring and Heydrich would never have been able to engineer the systematic murder of the Jews of Europe.

Anyone who cares to believe that, for the people who are now in their very old age and were still children in Auschwitz in 1944, the horror recedes and their souls can find peace, is fundamentally mistaken. But it is not only the survivors of the Holocaust who are often increasingly plagued by the nightmares, since the added disabilities of old age heighten the pain, and the past returns to their souls with even greater torment. The same applies to the perpetrators and the accessories to the crimes. Oskar Gröning knows this. – Acute panic attacks with flashbacks that bring Auschwitz into the present are by no means seldom and are described by all of the carers, nurses and close persons who look after these people in their old age.

And anyone who believes that the 14 witnesses represent thoroughly intact personalities who are psychologically stable and need no external support whatsoever, is again very much mistaken. They may give this appearance in court, because they have carefully prepared themselves in advance for this day and this hour, and the lawyers have prepared them for the whole of the trial very gently and yet in great detail. – They all repeatedly relive the agony in the whole bandwidth of their incredibly dark hours, the background to which can be described in the words Eichmann used in the famous Sassen interview to describe his life’s work: “I transported them to the butcher.”

Within a year, up to the liberation in May 1945, Jewish children in happy families were transformed into the few remaining survivors of the Hungarian Holocaust. They knew nothing about how they could lead a normal life.
Utterly alone, they had to learn how to survive their survival.

The joint plaintiffs who have been allowed to give evidence to this court have described all the suffering and the loss. And in the greatest of humility I repeatedly say to myself: Words alone are utterly inadequate when it comes to filling with life the true experience of the hell of Auschwitz.

The true dimensions of the hell of Auschwitz live on exclusively in the hearts and minds of the survivors, of whom none should have survived Auschwitz according to the SS objectives of total domination. The defendant confirmed that no survival of the Jews in Auschwitz was intended, and that he himself had internalized this conclusion.

The picture Gröning gave of an “orderly tending to” the arriving transports with the cattle wagons overflowing with Hungarian Jews bore no resemblance to what actually happened to the people.

I would like to just take as an example that metaphor which Oskar Gröning repeatedly used – also in his last statement – in order to describe his own concern cloaked in a semblance of benevolence. He repeatedly mentioned the baby which remained behind on the ramp, was grabbed by an SS man who smashed its head against the side of a truck and thus silenced it in an “inappropriately” cruel way. After all – as Gröning said – this baby could just as well have been killed in another way, for instance by shooting.

How does this single image, individually sketched by Gröning from the time he began his duties in Auschwitz, fit in with his emotionless description qualified as the “orderly tending to” the transports during the Hungarian Action, when 5 or 6 trains arrived every day each carrying around 3,000 Jews?

I am convinced that the statements of the 14 examined witnesses and the expertise provided by Dr. Hördler on the allegedly “smooth tending to” the 437,000 Hungarian Jews have shown very clearly what really happened.
Death had entered the wagons long before their doors were wrenched open by the prisoner labour squads, who also received their orders from and were supervised by Unterscharführer Gröning.

One of the many questions that Oskar Gröning has so far avoided answering is:

What effect did the dead and dying people from the Hungarian transports have on the defendant himself when they were thrown out of the wagons in front of his feet on the ramp? Or would he say: “There weren’t any”?

Was he already so accustomed to death and annihilation at this point, that only that one early encounter with a single baby remained in his memory and was worth mentioning?

Or is it more the case that this metaphor originates from a construct of later self-justification within his own family and his social environment, when he wanted to depict himself to his own sons and others in a way that would enable them to treat him with a certain amount of respect?

Everyone who is old enough to remember those times is aware of these ways of creating this generation’s self-image. In the very early years people would slam their fists down on the table and – like Gröning – ban everyone in the family from ever mentioning the word MURDER in connection with their own actions in Auschwitz. This phase was followed by the great silence in the years of the economic miracle.

Without “slamming his fist on the table”, Gröning would only have been able to internalize the supposed impunity a great deal later. This applied only after the inconsequential questioning by Senior Public Prosecutor Klein in 1978.

Long before that, in the 1960s, he and his generation were confronted with the past “during the war years” inside their own families, when the Auschwitz Trial and the prevailing spirit of the times prompted the student sons to ask their father questions. Mr Gröning, you too faced this problem. There was no point in trying not to concern yourself with the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial.

The baby that was smashed to death during the defendant’s start of duties presented a useful bridge for the return to the remnants of moral principles and for the logical description of a series of supposed requests for transfer to the front.

In my opinion, the hearing of evidence showed convincingly enough that those transfer requests could not be recognised as existent. This cannot be altered by the supposed personal file which according to Gröning had mysteriously disappeared from the public prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt. Nevertheless, these transfer applications were of eminent importance for personal exculpation. Because only in this way was it possible for one to more or less maintain face in one’s own social surroundings during the 1960s.

Not to mention the promotion in rank to Unterscharführer – in other words corporal, which Gröning transformed into an SS exemption criterion for duty on the ramp. We recall the photos from the Auschwitz Album, in which the historian Dr Hördler showed us numerous SS men displaying the rank of SS-Unterführer on the ramp.

Gröning reacted with his supplementary statement to this evidence from the expert and relegated his original assertion of “no Unterführer on the ramp” to the level of purely a personal conclusion. This course correction is a fatal reminder of the “disappeared personal file”, which only turned up again after serious doubts about the existence of the transfer applications had been expressed.
The defendant felt the breath of death in the stench of thousands of people being burned every day and night during the Hungarian Action in Auschwitz, and he knew: in the shadow of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews, this was the safest place for him personally during the war which had cost his brother his life in November 1942.

And yet he still maintained from the 1960s until now: “I wanted to get away from Auschwitz and go to the front”, where death would have confronted him, not as the stench of burned Jews, but as many thousands of dead German soldiers, and where it would have lurked in waiting for him too. And it seems even more “out of touch with reality” in this context that, in 1991, as a witness in the  Kühnemann court proceedings, and according to the statement of former Judge Struss, he answered the question as to the reasons for his alleged transfer request with: “Because it just stank”. During examinations such answers to questions often occurred, when the question addressed a topic that in reality never existed. That is to say, when a “transfer application” never existed.

I shall explain to you why this story comes across to my clients as a ghastly lie, so that they see it as a particularly infamous abdication of personal responsibility.

The smashed tiny head of a Jewish baby serves as the prelude to “simulated outrage” designed to demonstrate a kind of sentiment resembling pity and a subjective sensitivity to cruelty. The only relevant aspect of this story for the verdict of this court is that the defendant admits his early knowledge of “cruel killing” as a characteristic of murder.

Following the isolated outrage at the brutal killing of that one baby, Gröning then perceived the 437,000 Jews from Hungary merely as a “large number” in a brief period under a heavy workload, and as the Jews who had to be “tended to” on arrival in an orderly way, so that they went to their deaths from the ramp completely unaware and without any kind of difficulties.

During this time of the Hungarian Action, the defendant does not register even one single baby who was thrown from the wagon already dead, or who a mother held in her arms as an already dehydrated corpse, or whimpering and weakened from hunger and thirst faced the final hours of its life. Even another baby killed on the ramp does not occur in his depiction. “Orderly” is the defining term he uses for the Hungarian Action.

The witnesses who have been examined here have spoken about their families who were murdered during the Hungarian Action. The least that our clients had expected to hear in Mr Gröning’s new statement, after he had heard all the descriptions of the horrific deaths of their parents and siblings, was a reference to his own participation and perceptions during the murder of the Hungarian Jews. But Gröning mentioned nothing about this! He simply said that during the Hungarian Action “numerous transports with very many people arrived in Auschwitz within a short time.” No mention of MURDER. According to him it simply led to a bigger workload in recording the foreign currencies. A greater detachment from the statements of the examined witnesses is hardly imaginable. If, as he now maintains, “the descriptions of the victims given by the survivors and relatives have also affected him extremely strongly”, he nevertheless avoids any expressions that might have given the some indication of this.

I once said in an interview that “nobody in this court room will be entirely alone”. By that I also meant the defendant in particular. He is accompanied by all the members of his family who have already died. In his own words, Mr Gröning says they visit him in his dreams. But he is also being accompanied in spirit by the generations that are following him. He is acquainted with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

And our clients who made statements as witnesses did not come alone either. They are accompanied by their murdered parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Often it was 50 or 60 or even more people who accompanied each single witness here to Lüneburg in the agonising feeling of the violent loss of entire extended families.

In the meantime, the joint plaintiffs have learned that, at the end of 1943, the defendant married Irmgard, the fiancée of his older brother Gerhard who fell at Staligrad on 20 November 1942. Clearly, and understandably, the defendant now wanted to save his own life in order to greet his firstborn son, who was born in September 1944, not merely as “a hero who fell for the Führer and the Fatherland”. When my clients were encountering the defendant on the ramp, his wife Irmgard was in her sixth month of pregnancy and should not become a widow, after her previous fiancé had already fallen as a soldier two years previously. – One has to ask: had not Oskar Gröning had to promise his brother that he “would take care of Irmgard, in the event that he did not return from the front”?

And the defendant still has the nerve today, to describe his own contributions to the deceptions facilitating the systematic annihilation of these witnesses’ extended families – including babies and pregnant women – and simply to bed them in alleged applications for transfer to the front – to the place of his brother’s death – in order to morally gloss over his own guilt.

Whilst Mr Gröning designates the place of Auschwitz as unsuitable for realizing his family planning and “quickly having a child”, and suggests that action on the front was supposedly the better alternative, this is contradicted by the facts surrounding the birth of the oldest son. The date of delivery on 29 August 1944 meant that the time of conception lay between 21 December 1943 and 18 January1944, in other words during his Christmas leave when he celebrated his wedding.

One has to repeatedly recall to mind: Gröning’s supposed moral outrage at the events in Auschwitz comes from a single incident at the start of his posting, as well as from the secret observation of a mass gassing and burning of the corpses. But he says that he himself had nothing to do personally with the two events.

The joint plaintiffs are aware of the actual connection between an utterly unconditional obedience to ORDERS and its catastrophic consequences. It is the surrender of all personal responsibility whatsoever.

It manifests itself as the abandonment of responsibility and, in the case of the defendant, as a kind of transformation of personal responsibility. Consequently, the defendant uses events that he encountered long before the time of the charges of accessory to murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews to describe a supposed moral awakening and hoist it as a banner of decency.

Once this touch of moral concern had been established, the defendant in this Hungarian Action, which included the families of the joint plaintiffs, failed to register any further mentionable moral questioning of his own self.

For him it now suffices to invent a number of transfer applications as relevant apparent proof of human decency in the years of his own family conflicts and explanation difficulties, in which that generation of fathers generally found themselves in Germany during the 1960s and 70s.

Today, and 50 years after the intense questioning by the second generation on the side of the perpetrators, there might have been a chance to revise what now can only be understood as a downright lie.

The desire to save one’s own life, as he clearly formulated it in connection with his marriage proposal of November 1943, could also have been considered as a possibility. Instead, the verbal attempt to exculpate oneself with one of the stereotype stories cooked up in the 1960s and already widespread in the cases of earlier decades remains unchanged.

Even if their engagement in the extermination process could no longer be denied, earlier defendants also played up to the contemporary sensitivities of conscience with alleged repeated applications for transfer to the front which were impossible to prove, because in those years there no longer were any unsuccessful transfer applications from young SS men who were fit for combat.

This lie is so humiliating for our clients, since Gröning failed to mention and excluded the suffering and all the brutalities of the Hungarian Action in his testimony, because the generation of his own sons could not inquire about such details, and naturally any detailed knowledge for the investigation results was non-existent in the personal environment.

In this way Mr Gröning was able to preserve the “external” image of an inwardly “decent” SS man, who never wanted to remain in Auschwitz, and instead bravely wanted to join the real war at the front, and in addition to this was no longer subject to duty on the ramp as an Unterscharführer.

Before I come to a close, I need to talk about “fear” and its transformations.

The wealth of detailed information received within the framework of the preliminary conversations with the joint plaintiffs was unable to allay all of their fears about coming to Germany for the trial. In the case of numerous joint plaintiffs who did not come, the reason for declining to travel to Lüneburg was not just their age and health or frailty. The fear that Irene Weiss described, that even today the defendant in an SS uniform would still trigger mortal fear in her, was so overpowering in some of the joint plaintiffs, that they were only able to put an end to the acute new nightmares they reported to me by finally withdrawing their willingness to travel.  

The latent fear, which needs to be taken very seriously, accompanied the joint plaintiffs on their journey to Lüneburg. Some were utterly averse coming to Lüneburg. But those who were able to build up enough confidence and embarked on the journey have, without exception, experienced a powerful and profound transformation. They were prepared for everything they encountered here in Lüneburg. And as a result, each of them has developed a new image of Germany, under the impression of which the latent fear disappeared, or at least was able to diminish to a large extent.

The joint plaintiffs have recognised the respect with which they have met. In court they have experienced the search for justice, in contrast to their fear of traditional German self-righteousness. Without hesitation, they also recognised judicial and police officers in German uniforms as those who were here to protect them from any form of harm during this trial. Members of the German public – sometimes with spontaneous gestures of kindness in the public space – representatives of the media and the mayor of the city of Lüneburg: they have all contributed, so that the conduct of the court itself could contain no more surprises.

The court confirmed and strengthened to an entirely unexpected extent all of the positive impressions that the witnesses who arrived here were able to experience in the environment of these proceedings. And so my reference to the “redeeming and healing effect”, which I used at the beginning as an optimistic prognosis, became a soberly described actual reality of these proceedings for the joint plaintiffs.

“It surprises me and makes me happy to be alive”, as a woman joint plaintiff wrote to us in a concluding description of her experiences in Lüneburg.

The dialogue

And now I would like to return again to the defendant’s supplementary statement which gives rise to certain hopes and expectations.

Let us recall: the defendant did in fact for the first time speak of his guilt, restricted and relativized as a “moral guilt”, at the beginning of this trial. This was a statement that was never before heard in any of the previous court proceedings. This fundamentally deserves respect, even though with these words he simply repeated statements from earlier interviews in 2005.

I cannot however discern that Mr Gröning has given up the restriction of his guilt to a “moral” nature, and instead acknowledged his “complicity”.

It is disappointing that although Mr Gröning states at the beginning that it is of major concern to him to make a renewed statement following the testimonies of the survivors and relatives of the victims, he subsequently only says abstractly that the statements have made him realise again very clearly, that most of the people were annihilated. This he knew before. This is nothing new. However, he makes no explicit remarks about the murdered families of the witnesses. And only these fates were new to him.

Instead, he says that he “had no idea about the terrible conditions during the transports” and says verbatim: “That deeply shocked me.”

With respect: Did not Mr Gröning see everything directly and immediately that we have seen in the photos from the Auschwitz Album? “No idea”? – 3,000 Jews in 3 days and nights from Hungary to Auschwitz; always 80 to100 in one wagon. “No idea”? What kind of travellers they were who were thrown out onto the ramp? – “No idea” about the terrible conditions during the journey?

Gröning had the chance to say something more credible about this.

But he chose to present his first statement as “old wine in new skins”. He sticks to the old claims of transfer applications and no regular duties on the ramp during the Hungarian Action, as well as a “factual” ban on ramp duties in his favour, which he supposedly did not question and simply acknowledged gratefully.

This does not convince the joint plaintiffs in the slightest.

The supplementary statement also contains a wish to “apologise”. This can be taken to illustrate how individually this topic should be treated. When one of my clients heard this word, without fully understanding the context, she expressed a feeling of “positive surprise”. Only after an explanation did she realise: it was merely an apology for the old SS jargon of 1944 during his first statement in April and not, for instance, a personal wish to apologise for his complicity. This came as a disappointment.

At the same time there were other joint plaintiffs who would not have wanted to hear such an “apology”, because it would not be appropriate.

The problem becomes clear: Gröning’s statements concerning the extent of his own accessory to crime become recognisable as a laborious minimisation and complex stories beyond the truth. Thus, the confessions in humility and remorse are very much empty clichés, because the open description of the real accessory to crime is lacking.

Nevertheless, it becomes clear here: Mr Gröning has at least expressed himself and has attempted to respond to the statements of the witnesses – although with a lack of empathy. The dialogue in itself has not yet ended.

Together with his victims and the few survivors, Mr Gröning has the privilege of knowledge in the question of what really happened. And he can speak. He still can speak. He still has the opportunity and the freedom to describe the unspeakable crimes, if only he were to leave his own dream world of trivialisation, but this still has not happened with his reticent description of the crimes as “tending to” the Jews in the gas chambers. In his “final statement” prior to the pronouncement of judgement he still has sufficient opportunity to do this and can break his silence again, by unburdening his soul and speaking about what really happened on the ramp during the Hungarian Action.

Up to now, Mr Gröning has still not taken this important step.

In conclusion I ask that Mr Gröning be found guilty of accessory to murder as charged.

My colleague Cornelius Nestler will address the question of penalty.

Thomas Walther