04.24.2015 07:29 AM

The case of Oskar Groening

“The capacity of the gas chambers and the capacity of the crematoria were quite limited. Someone said that 5,000 people were processed in 24 hours but I didn’t verify this. I didn’t know,” he said. “For the sake of order we waited until train 1 was entirely processed and finished.”

I have been following the prosecution of this SS Auschwitz guard closely. His blasé recitation of serial horrors isn’t noteworthy – he was indisputably a member of the Nazi killing machine, and his apparent indifference to genocide is almost predictable, notwithstanding his much-reported sophistry about “moral guilt.”

What I find surprising, instead, is the neutral – almost disinterested – tone that some reporters and editors have adopted in covering this trial. Here, then, are some truisms that I have referred to before, in a tautological trifecta:

  • It is acceptable to take a position on notorious crimes.
  • Notorious crimes like genocide and mass murder should be condemned.
  • Condemning such notorious crimes doesn’t compromise one’s journalism, it enhances it.

The Holocaust, and the way in which it was carried out in places like Auschwitz, should not be reported on as mere allegations, as we would report on someone charged with shoplifting and appearing for the first time in provincial court.  The Holocaust is no mere allegation.  (Nor the Armenian genocide, which commenced 100 years ago today, and which gets referred to in similarly antiseptic reports.) By admitting he was there, facilitating genocide, Oskar Groening – though an old man, and no longer in uniform, and expressing regret – was a mass murderer like the rest of those bastards.  And he deserved, and deserves, their fate.


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    ABlanas says:

    It’s pretty appropriate to see photos of this frail old geezer, shuffling along with a walking aid, head stooped, hair dishevelled, eyes empty. As a matter of historical congruence, he now somewhat resembles the emaciated victims that he kept count of.

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    Matt says:

    I don’t care how old he is, send his ass to the gas chamber.

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      doris says:

      And ignore all the other administrators and minions?

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    Kevin says:

    “…the banality of evil.” It was routine, it was ordinary, they followed procedure.

    Never forget.

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      davie says:

      Just to add, my understanding is that Arendt suggested that the evil that we do to each other today is divided into small sections, with each of us telling ourselves that we are not responsible for the overall outcome. Just doing my job!

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    Dayz says:

    Criticizing Nazis has got to be one of the easiest stances to take but didn’t the Ontario Court of Appeals just agree that duress was a legitimate murder defense? It’s not uncommon in other jurisdictions either. Do people really think Groening wouldn’t have a duress defense in his situation? Perhaps that’s not hard to envision and why the journalism isn’t violently condemning him.

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    davie says:

    I understand that Groning was a clerk or bookkeeper at Auschwitz. He is being charged with accessory to the crimes committed there.
    He is in the dock because he went public with his own story, his witnessing of the crimes, to counter holocaust denial among his own countrymen. I assume the reporters and editors are aware of this situation, and that the awareness affects the way they are reporting.

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    Africon says:

    A little known connection between Hitler and the Turkish President Kemal Ataturk ties today’s two topics together.

    Until the Farhud, Baghdad had been a model of peaceful coexistence for Jews and Arabs.
    Jews made up about one in three of the city’s population in 1941, and most saw themselves as Iraqi first and Jewish second.

    So what caused this terrible turn of events?
    A month earlier, a pro-Nazi lawyer Rashid Ali al-Gilani, had overthrown Iraq’s royal family, and started broadcasting Nazi propaganda on the radio.
    The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Hitler were closely linked with Rashid Ali

    Hitler had long idealized the Turkish revolution of Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk” and had long demonized the non-Muslim inhabitants of Eastern Europe. He was, Motadel shows, skeptical of Slavic volunteers to the Nazi cause, but “he considered Muslims to be the only truly trustworthy soldiers and supported their recruitment unconditionally.” The scenes our author shows us about that recruitment are unfailingly eye-opening; the Wehrmacht operated under strict instructions to respect the “special religious rights” of its Muslim recruits – field battalions had “daily prayers, religious holidays, burial rites, dietary requirements, the employment of field imams, and the introduction of a religious-military hierarchy.
    “It has to be emphasized,” the Nazi recruitment instructions went, “that we grant complete religious freedom, whereas Bolshevism has suppressed the church.”
    As Motadel writes, these recruits were told that, “in the name of Islam, they were to liberate their countries from foreign rule.
    It became one of the greatest mobilization campaigns of Muslims led by a non-Muslim power in history, by far surpassing similar efforts made by the Reichswar in the First World War.”
    Germany’s courtship of Muslims was not only an attempt to control and stabilize Muslim areas behind the front.
    It was also, and perhaps more importantly, an effort to stir up unrest behind enemy lines, most notably on the unstable Muslim fringes of the Soviet Union, as well as in British (and later Free French) colonial domains in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

    See also – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haj_Amin_al-Husseini

    A third event today is the centenary of the Gallipoli fiasco, where my grandfather was the pilot of one of Britain’s first two Airship scouts reporting on troops movements.

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    VH says:

    I would say that Canadian and American newspaper types are very different than their UK and Europe counterparts.
    Too much bland corporate food is not good for your soul.

    Case is point: did *any* Canadian or American outlet report on why they adjourned the trial early yesterday?

    From the U.K. Telegraph: “The hall hosting what may be the last great Nazi war crimes trial doubles up as a venue for Good Sex is Expensive, a stand-up comedy show about sex-seeking single mothers. After listening to a Holocaust survivor recount her ordeal…the sombre judge ordered the courtroom to be cleared in preparation for “another event” to be held there later on Wednesday. He tactfully did not specify that that event would kick off by blasting out the song “Let’s talk about sex baby” before a comedienne appears on stage to crack jokes about…single mums”.

    As you know, the human condition is full of contradictions, we can’t go back in time and fix transgressions of the past but I think (soulless North American reporters notwithstanding), the folks over in Germany today have a pretty good grip on this distasteful thing and I think they will figure out the right thing to do, whatever that will be, after taking everything into account, good and bad.

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    Marlene Anderson says:

    I think every reporter should read Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin written by an historian named Timothy Snyder. It’s a history and one of the top five compelling reads of my lifetime and I’ve read hundreds of books. The emotional impact of the history can scarcely be conveyed except to say that I, who can tear through books in hours, had to keep putting it down because I was shaking. A friend, a history professor, confessed that he got halfway through and left it for six months before he could bring himself to start reading again. Snyder honours the 14 million non-combatants who, between them, Hitler and Stalin murdered in a 12 year period spanning WW2. 14 million, including the 6 million Jews, selectively marked for death in a coldly calculated implementation of policy. Not the heat of war, nor collateral damage. But eradication from the earth because they were Jew or Slav or some other undesirable considered unfit for the earth.

    Snyder honours the victims by impressing on us that each man, woman and child died an individual death as they lived an individual life. When deaths are recorded as numbers, thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, it loses its impact. Snyder ensures we see them as people. He makes us feel it and it’s horrific nearly beyond telling. One in particular will live forever in my mind. An eleven year Jewish girl, writing her father to say goodbye. “They are coming for us in the morning. I am so afraid of this death. They throw the children in alive. I love you, Papa. I kiss you. I kiss you.”

    Already many have either forgotten or have begun to rewrite the past and say it did not happen. If we allow the memory to die, it WILL happen again, IS happening as I sit and write. Maybe ‘never forget’ is better said ‘never let them forget’.

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    Scotian says:

    “Already many have either forgotten or have begun to rewrite the past and say it did not happen. If we allow the memory to die, it WILL happen again, IS happening as I sit and write. Maybe ‘never forget’ is better said ‘never let them forget’.” Marlene Anderson says: April 25, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    While I found your entire post solid reading, this last sentence in particular I believe cannot be emphasized enough. Thank you for your comment here. As someone who not only appreciates history on the large scale but also makes a point to remember it’s individual scale within that larger scheme this comment and sentence of yours really struck a chord for me. Just thought it worth underscoring.

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      Marlene Anderson says:

      Scotian, I appreciate the kind words. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to read Bloodlands. In my view it ought to be required reading in high school and university. This is what happens when the world looks the other way because they cannot accept the awfulness of what humans can do to one another if they think no one is looking or no one cares.

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    King Prick says:

    Just a little food for thought… Eisenhower may have perpetrated mass genocide too. The book by Canadian James Bacque. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Other_Losses
    proves an interesting read. (Albeit controversial.)

    Some agree and some disagree with the hypothesis and I’ll grant that it’s a little too late but sometimes I wish the world view would look at western nations for the crimes they commit in times of war also.

    My uncle, a German, was in and out of concentration camps throughout most of the second world war. I know the stories. He wrote them down in memoir for family to read. He has no bitterness and we love him for it. “Why should I be mad,” he says. “It doesn’t do any good. I got over it the day I got out.” (He was 17 and 65 pounds) he watched his best friend (at 12) get his head stoved in by a Russian soldier’s gun butt. He ate bread from the outhouses that were soaked in fecal matter. He almost had his leg amputated from an infection. He walked over 5000km across Europe before he found his family again—a feat that I couldn’t even imagine… He lost family members and youth and yet, he harbours no ill will. How he can do it, I’ll never know.

    We’ll never forget what happened but looking back with anger is doing nothing to stop it from happening elsewhere today. It’s happening everywhere and we keep going back 70 years to relive it. It’s time to stop what’s happening in our time. I wish to god more people would be as interested in hunting down modern war criminals—like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. Think of the resources wasted on trying an octagenerian and what could have been spent hunting down modern genocidal nutbars.

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    King Prick says:

    One more thing… This is how it should be when an elderly Holocaust survivor meets an elderly S.S. accountant. It’s called “learning to deal.” Time heals all wounds–unless you enjoy picking scabs. I’m moved by this photo.


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      Marlene Anderson says:

      “Time heals all wounds.” It may heal wounds but it does not obliterate memory. Choosing to forget makes us careless and blind to the evil perpetuated by those are convinced there are no consequences when the state has your back. That kiss was between Eva and Oskar – she needed it to empower herself and relinquish the horror of what was done to her.

      I choose to remember the past, not to punish old codgers, but to keep it foremost in everyone’s mind just how quickly whole peoples are exterminated for no crime but that they are different. Is there anger? A bit, yes. Not the passionate fury that makes you reckless but the cold rational anger that makes you keenly watchful. Too many want to forget the nightmare. But the nightmare always hovers, waiting for us to go to sleep. And when we do, it comes back wearing a new face, speaking a different language but it’s the same old nightmare.

      On my mother’s side I am Polish and German. I had a relative, a Polish officer, die at Katyn. The Soviets stood him at the edge of a ditch and a bullet put into the back of his head; I also had a relative serve in the SS. He, too, was an officer. I’d like to say he served nobly and well with the 2nd SS Panzer division, but the documented atrocities attributed to the 2nd says he did not. So the horrors of WW2 are very tangible to my family. We feel it to our bones that we can easily be victim or perpetrator. It all depends on the confluence of events at a specific moment in time and whose hand holds the gun. Unless a large force acts against it.

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    Barry LLC says:

    It seems we now have a terrorist element growing in our very midst with the same objective; racial superiority, and we clasp them to our charitable christian breasts because we are bleeding hearted, politically correct cowards. The problem will blow up in our faces in 2080 when the population balance has been tilted in their favour because of their ‘population bomb’ long term strategy which they openly promote. But let’s leave that problem to our granddaughters too.

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      doconnor says:

      I bet they said they same about the Irish 120 years ago.

      At the time many where immirgrating and they where known for having large families, terrorism and having a different religion.

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