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Reinhold Hanning, Former Auschwitz Guard Convicted a Year Ago, Dies at 95

A contrite Mr. Hanning was convicted last June in a state court in the northwestern German city of Detmold.

“I am ashamed that I saw injustice and never did anything about it,” he told the court in a weak voice from a wheelchair, reading from a statement and speaking into a microphone, “and I apologize for my actions.”

Mr. Hanning joined the Hitler Youth at age 13 and the Waffen SS at 18. He was wounded by grenade splinters on the Eastern front in 1941 and assigned to guard duty in a tower at Auschwitz in early 1942. He remained there until June 1944.

“People were shot, gassed and burned,” he said in court. “I could see how corpses were taken back and forth or moved out. I could smell the burning bodies.”

Survivors testified against him at his trial. One, Angela Orosz, 71, who had been an infant at the camp, faced him and said: “People like you, Mr. Hanning, made the hell of Auschwitz possible! People who looked on and took part, without asking any questions.”

Almost a million Jews and tens of thousands of others were murdered at Auschwitz, also in occupied Poland.

Mr. Hanning told the court that he had never spoken about his time at Auschwitz, not even to his family. “I’ve tried my whole life to forget about this time,” he said. “Auschwitz was a nightmare.”

His death leaves only one surviving former Auschwitz guard whose conviction remains legal. That man, Oskar Gröning, 96, was sentenced in July 2015 to four years in prison for complicity in the murder of 300,000 prisoners.

Mr. Gröning’s most recent appeal was rejected last September by Germany’s highest federal court. The state prosecutor’s office in Hanover is still collecting medical opinions as to whether Mr. Gröning can be incarcerated and receive appropriate care, said a spokeswoman for the office.

Thomas Walther, a German lawyer who was the driving force behind the trial of Mr. Demjanjuk, represented Holocaust survivors as co-plaintiffs in the trials of Mr. Hanning and Mr. Gröning. He expressed frustration that Mr. Hanning never responded to his clients’ pleas to recount his experience at Auschwitz so that present and future generations would know of it.

But in a telephone interview on Thursday, Mr. Walther said that the clients he had contacted on hearing of Mr. Hanning’s death insisted that the most important thing was that Mr. Hanning was brought to justice and that his deeds were recounted in court.

Christoph Heubner, the vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee in Berlin, said by telephone that the conviction, however late, meant “that the biggest aim was achieved.”

“The one judgment stands right to the end, and that means the view asserted itself that anybody who was part of the death machine acquired guilt,” he said.

Mr. Heubner added, “For the survivors, it was never so important whether these accused actually had to serve their sentence, but that judgment was passed.”

The sentences meant that “for Germans, and the world, you cannot forget genocide even if you try for years to repress it.”

“That,” Mr. Heubner added, “is a wonderful thing.”

Source: NYT > World

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